An enabling environment for evidence-informed policy making

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).

Alex Ademokun
Alex Ademokun Senior Programme Manager for the Evidence-Informed Policy Making team at INASP and the Director of the the VakaYiko Consortium.

2 Responses to “An enabling environment for evidence-informed policy making

  • I would like to suggest one more component of an enabling environment for EIPM: a widespread regard for the scientific method, which I suppose is one of the cornerstones for evidence.

    What is proven? What is not? What does evidence mean? I don’t think these questions would be interpreted the same way across the world. Evidence for someone in a developing country may not be evidence for someone in a developed one. And people in developing countries may have more widely varying views on evidence compared to people in developed ones.

    Would a globally relevant definition of evidence help?

    • Thanks Ravi. I sort of saw widespread regard for the scientific method as part of a public appetite for evidence and an engaged citizenry though reading it again it is something else that should join the above list. Keep it coming.

      For the purposes of this post I use evidence to refer to knowledge derived through research methodology while recognising that term ‘evidence’ refers to a lot more than research and also depends on the context in which it is being used. I think the issues about local perceptions of evidence and the role of values and culture are of course very important however I doubt a global definition of evidence would help. Try getting two academics to agree on what is ‘true’. However if the issue under consideration is scientific then there are ways to objectively verify information. If it is legal there are standards and precedents against which inputs are judged. I don’t see these as developed vs developing country ideas. Of course policy making brings together a range of opinions, voices, disciplines and professional input simultaneously. The skills and processes to consider each of these against the relevant standard is really important and again I don’t think of as a developed vs developing country issue.