Why is there so little evidence about evidence based policy making?
You maybe surprised to hear that we don’t actually know how many policies are based upon a systematic review of evidence or data, or perhaps even more surprising whether evidence based decision making is actually better than policy made on the hoof. That is not to say that work in this area hasn’t been undertaken as Jill Rutter’s recent work for the Institute for Government has demonstrated. But maybe the real problem is that the superiority of evidence-based policymaking is taken to be so self evident as not to require justification let alone validation by means of systematic review.
In the arena of public policy making solutions are often pragmatic. A ‘quick and dirty’ rehearsal of the problem at hand, followed by a brief consideration as to any alternatives to the preferred solution is often as good as it gets. Given the challenges of conducting an evidence assessment of real worth, deciding how impact could be measured and establishing a basis for the appraisal of options, it is easy to see how such short cuts become the norm.
Writers such as Ian Sanderson have argued that evidence-based policymaking is in fact just one way of doing things and it is a way that links to a modernist mindset that sees room for improvement just about everywhere it looks. More than this evidence-based policymaking will often take more time and require more resources than less structured processes. It is far easier to seek substantiation for a decision that has already been taken than to set in place a more considered process that could be considered as representing indecision or over engineering.
All this having been said, evidence based decision making is increasingly becoming part of the landscape of public policy making. I for one applaud this, but I do so with my eyes open and a realization that more needs to be done not only to demonstrate the value of the process, but also to make the process itself more transparent, accessible and meaningful.
To look at Jill Rutter’s work go to http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications/evidence-and-evaluation-policy-making
Ian Sanderson’s article can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1111/1467-9299.00292/asset/1467-9299.00292.pdf?v=1&t=hsyhr801&s=193cf34f3d8c1653b6e580e81b0a75a28af10dd2