Our common purpose for new policies and laws: biology is the gradient that unifies us

Cheryl J. Widman and Emily L. Casanova

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue article, ‘A sociological treatment exploring the medical model in relation to the neurodiversity movement with reference to policy and practice‘.

A couple of years ago my (Widman’s) son – who is autistic – was going to Sweden to visit family. My nephew, who is deaf, rejected getting together with my son because, after all, my son is not fluent in sign language. My nephew felt that he and my son would not have much in common nor a way to communicate – although as young kids, they were close and found a way to communicate anyway. This caused me to think about what has been going on within the disability community, or more correctly, ‘communities’, and how it got to be so siloed.

Nowhere is disability more dichotomised than within the autistic community. We have folks who celebrate neurodiversity while others eschew it. Some insist on identity-first language while others insist upon person-first. There are those who are hoping for a cure (medical model) while others embrace their autism (cultural model). Autistic culture has become less unifying than factional. If we can’t agree on how to refer to ourselves (‘autistic’ or ‘with autism’), how can we agree on anything else? The feuding is often caustic.

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The absence of culturally appropriate evidence can produce or exacerbate inequities

Rayanne de Sales Lima, Andréa Borghi Moreira Jacinto and Rodrigo Arthuso Arantes Faria

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue article, ‘Ignoring evidence, producing inequities: public policies, disability and the case of Kaiowá and Guarani Indigenous children with disabilities in Brazil‘.

The implementation of public policies is a process that is as complex as its formulation, especially when we set out to solve issues in communities whose codes and languages are not shared by policymakers.

For example, Brazil is a country of continental proportions. Its population and socio-political contexts are very diverse. In the 2010 census, 305 indigenous ethnicities were identified, ranging from peoples living under voluntary isolation to groups living in major cities, spread across the 27 Brazilian states. Such diversity engenders a multitude of viewpoints about socially relevant problems, which universal public policies cannot cover without proper adaptations.

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Is equality worth measuring?

Mark Priestley and Stefanos Grammenos

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue article, ‘How useful are equality indicators? The expressive function of ‘stat imperfecta’ in disability rights advocacy‘.

Measuring equality can be difficult, especially when there is a lack of suitable data available, but it makes a difference. If a thing is worth measuring then it is worth measuring well – but even approximate indications of inequality can be useful in drawing public attention to injustices, making marginalised groups more visible and challenging policy assumptions. In a newly published article in Evidence & Policy, we argue that public investments in measuring inequalities have a social value that can’t be measured by technical perfection alone. Imperfect statistics sometimes have strong policy effects!

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Listen to people with disabilities when gathering evidence for policy

Carol Rivas

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue Editorial, ‘The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice: embracing complexity’.

Everyone’s a patient’ is a refrain occasionally heard from professional health policy actors dismissive of health service user evidence; they argue that their own lived experience of a visit to the doctor’s gives them sufficient authority.  The fallacy of this is suggested by an eminent psychiatrist’s astonishment at his treatment when hospitalised with a complex leg fracture. A fleeting association with primary care does not equate with the expertise developed by those with conditions with no quick fix – chronic conditions and disabilities. The much-discussed PACE trial shows how political tensions can arise from a disconnect between researchers who make flawed assumptions and those they seek to help. 

So how can we ensure the ‘technical precision and expressive function’ of evidence meet the diverse needs, theoretical and ideological assumptions and priorities of the range of policy actors? How can we prevent procedural values-based decisions driven by political contingencies, drawing selectively on evidence, or the lack of representation or partial representation of disability diversity within evidence and policy?

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Advocates (often) make good research brokers (but sometimes don’t)

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘What do advocates want from policy research? Evidence from elite surveys‘.

Jake Haselswerdt and Elizabeth Rigby

Efforts to advance evidence-based policy quickly recognise the need for ‘research brokers’ to take on the critical role of linking the separate worlds of research and policy. Research brokers work in a range of organisations to transform, translate and package complex research findings into ideas and formats that can be used by policymakers, as well as facilitate meetings and establish relationships between researchers and policymakers. These research brokers are typically engaged in shaping the policy agenda, identifying promising solutions and influencing policy decisions. Yet, we know little about who plays that role, nor how they think about the evidence-policy connection.

Of particular interest are advocates working in foundations, think tanks, associations, lobbying firms and non-profit organisations pursuing specific policy objectives. These advocates are well-positioned to serve as research brokers since they are actively involved in most policy formulation and implementation processes and policymakers often use them as an important source of information. Yet advocates are also participants in the policy process who work to advance their own positions and preferences (and those of employers/clients). Research dissemination is just one of many tools advocates use to advance their policy goals.

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Hidden coalitions: are you acting as an analyst, advocate or applicator in your approach to evidence and policy?

Jasper Montana and James Wilsdon

After a period in which the onward march of evidence-informed decision-making appeared to be faltering in countries such as the US and UK, the acute uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have triggered a fresh explosion of engagement with evidence and policy interactions – from diverse disciplinary, sectoral and institutional perspectives.

It’s become common to see this described as an evidence ‘movement’ committed to strengthening links between science and policy – and in a superficial sense it is. But such labels can obscure subtle yet important distinctions in the way different actors understand problems in evidence-policy interactions and frame potential solutions.

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Does scientific evidence capture the attention of policymakers?

Leire Rincón García

Does scientifically-backed information capture the attention of policymakers? To test this, I conducted a field experiment embedded in a real-life advocacy initiative targeted to members of the European Parliament in April 2018. As described in my Evidence & Policy article, ‘The silver bullet reversed: the impact of empirical evidence on policymaker attention’, results indicate that ideas-based information, rather than empirical information, gathers more attention from policymakers. More precisely, it is the announcement of ideas rather the actual information which manages to capture policymaker interest. Crucially, these findings hold across political groups, policy support and gender.

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How do policymakers perceive qualitative research?

Rebecca S. Natow

Qualitative research has the potential to be of great value in policymaking. By examining stakeholders’ lived experiences, providing rich detail about policy contexts, and offering nuanced insights about the processes through which programmes are implemented, qualitative research can supply useful information that is not easily, if at all, obtainable through surveys and other quantitative methods. However, policymakers consistently express a preference for quantitative research. This is particularly true for randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which have been called the ‘gold standard’ of evaluation methods.

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Using evidence to achieve balance in public policymaking

R. Christopher Sheldrick, Justeen Hyde, Laurel K. Leslie and Thomas Mackie

Achieving balance is as important to progress as innovation and discovery. That’s one of the main conclusions we drew as we wrote our recent Evidence & Policy article, ‘The debate over rational decision making in evidence-based medicine: Implication for evidence-informed policy’.

Many of us place our hopes on innovative breakthroughs and groundbreaking discoveries, believing them to be our best bet to achieve a better world. And indeed, science has produced extraordinary breakthroughs. Vaccines radically reduced the risk of death from communicable diseases. Nitrogen-based fertilisers vastly increased the production of food. Computers completely transformed how modern humans learn, work and communicate. Surely, it would seem that investing in scientific breakthroughs is the key to progress. In this spirit, social scientists develop ‘evidence-based’ practices and policies and create hierarchies of evidence to determine ‘what works’. Many believe that if only science can produce enough evidence, discoveries will follow that can change the world – if only we can effectively compel others to accept them.

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