Question – what exactly does an evidence-informed policy look like (and who should be able to recognise it as such)?
The idea that policy should be informed by evidence and not based solely on it recognises that policy makers consider other factors beyond research when making decisions. In this model, policy makers may consider and choose to ignore research evidence in response to factors such as political expediency, timing and resource constraints. This makes it difficult to identify a policy that is actually informed by evidence when evidence is considered and rejected. In fact it is probably easier to spot one that blatantly ignores a body of knowledge rather than one that considers and chooses to respond selectively to research evidence.
Two recent stories in the UK made me think about the concept of an enabling environment for evidence-informed policy making. The education secretary was recently shown to have used unreliable polling data designed for commercial marketing purposes as evidence of the decline in the country’s education system. Another minister was shown to be misrepresenting statistics from his own department to back up claims about the efficacy of his policies.
While on the face of it these two examples show that politicians’ will always find ways to use data to their advantage the fact that the stories are being discussed in the press highlight what I think of as components of an enabling environment for evidence informed policy making (in no particular order):
- Public appetite – In both cases the policy makers felt the need to back up their statements with some data thus recognising a public appetite for evidence
- Engaged citizens – In the case of the education secretary the dodgy polls were exposed by a freedom of information request by a retired teacher not by the media or opposition
- Access to information
- Processes and institutions that scrutinise use of evidence – in the second case the statistics authority wrote an open letter to the minister chastising his department for their poor use of evidence and forwarded a copy to the parliamentary committee with oversight of the department.
- Media that hold policy makers to account.
The idea of an enabling environment is gaining traction and is one that INASP supports in our programmes through building capacity for access, production and use of research. A recent post on from poverty to power looking at ‘How to plan when you don’t know what is going to happen’ suggests working on supporting an enabling environment rather than specific projects as part of suggestions on how aid should change. The second post is also worth look here.
The points above are just a few components that spring to mind. I would like to hear your thoughts on other components of an enabling environment for EIPM (and how to support them) and indeed what an evidence informed policy looks like (and who should recognise it as such).