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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