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Evidence-Based Policy Making and Its Impact on Outcome

Discuss about the Evidence Based Policy Making.

The discourse of “Evidence Based Policy Making” has gained popularity in a number of policy communities. In Australia, there has been growing enthusiasm about the EBP. The reason for this being, that the basis of advice along with the decisions which the policy makers take are the best possible evidence which have been obtained from a number of sources. During the initial stages and also all through the process of policy development each and every main stakeholder has an involvement. All the evidence which is relevant including the one from the specialists is accessible to the policy makers in a meaningful form. The simple idea is that research needs to consider the collective wisdom regarding the success and also the failure of the initiatives that were undertaken previously in the specific domains of policy (Pawson, 2002).

However, several important questions are raised by this movement in Australia. Does the enthusiasm that currently exists is an implication that the empirical evidence was not the basis of policy making policy making that had been taking place in Australia in the past? What is the weightage that can be given or rather should be given to ‘research evidence’ by the policy makers to the policy making process? What sort of evidence is advocated by the promoters of evidence based policy? Do these have narrow basis for the conceptions of “evidence” or are they conventional scientific methods which give privilege to some of the methods as well as knowledge in comparison to others? All the questions cannot be possibly answered but the “evidence based policy” (EBP) in Australia will be critically appraised in this essay so that the fundamental question that “will the new enthusiasm for EBP deliver better outcomes?” Apart from this, will it be able to keep up to its promise of being an idea whose time has arrived (Young et al., 2002).

EBP is a set of methods or discourse that provides information about the policy process instead of directly aiming to have an affect on the final goals in relation to the policy. A more systematic, rigorous as well as rational approach is advocated by it. The basis of the EBP pursuit is the premise that the decisions of policy should be informed in a better way by evidence that is available and rational analysis should be a part of it. The reason for this is that the policy which has systematic evidence as its basis, has been observed to produce outcomes which are better. The approach has also incorporated practices that are evidence based (Davies, 2004).

Challenges in Integrating Evidence into Policy Making

The basis of EBP is the research which has undergone certain types of scrutiny and assurance of quality. In case of public policy which has the processes of policy development as their basis, the policy agenda is set by the extension of practices that are existing, politics, tradition and intuitive appeal. It assumes that evidence is something that is good in itself and is trustworthy, reliable as well as meaningful. The complexities in social science specifically are that there are disagreements in the interpretations related to the quality and strength of the evidence. Even when consensus is present, the best of evidences might not be able to meet the standard (O'Dwyer, 2004).

Even though the concept of evidence based policy is not new, in recent times, it has become a topic of public debate in Australia. As per the Prime Minister, it happens to be the main agenda of the Government for the public service. According to him, analysis of the various options that are available should be driving the policy designs and not ideology. A valuable opportunity is provided for advancing the cause for EBP by him it is difficult putting it into practice and obtaining the desired outcome.

In case of a real world the development of policy occurs in an environment that is fluid and is also subject to the political and vested interests and at times pressure might drive them in order to take immediate actions for the problems that might be grabbing the headlines. Ideally, there is a requirement of systems which at every stage of developing the policy are informed by evidence. This should be from the very beginning that is the stage of issue identification till the time of developing the response that is most suitable followed by evaluating its effectiveness. It becomes all the more vital when complex problems like climatic changes have to be tackled. These types of problems occur when there are rapid shifts in the evidence which forms the basis of responses and also consists of several types of interactive elements. Even while handling the issues that are not so complex, it is also necessary that for successful integration of the evidence into the process of policy making the evidence should be good to start with. This signifies that not just the collection of data and investments in research by also making sure that makers of policies possess the right skills for discriminating between evidence that is useful and reliable and the one which may not be such. Another vital aspect is that the evidence needs to have openess to rigorous professional as well as public debate. Validation of evidence along with transparency is also essential for assisting the Governments in gauging the reactions of the community to ideas prior to them being formed fully and in that way the politics of undertaking courses of action that are different can be anticipated. This will prove to be a challenging process for the policy makers as effort and time is taken for transparency to be established while speedy decisions have to be taken by the Government in most cases (Banks, 2009).

Criticisms and Concerns Regarding EBP Adoption


On the basis of the above we can say that EBP is not completely an affair that can be considered as irrational wherein the different types of evidence do not possess any relevance but it also does not mean that the process of policy making can be reduced to calculating its effectiveness as well as outcomes in a technical manner or conduct a costing of policy options which are well defined (Perri, 2002). An involvement of a risk factor is present in EBP which is that it will turn out to be a means for the elites of policy for increasing their strategic controls over the knowledge in relation to the social problems in a manner which will lead to the devaluation of wisdom that is practice based, tacit forms of knowledge, voices of the ordinary people and professional judgment. For instance, transferring to human services, the “evidence based medicine” principles can be questioned. It is a complex task to provide social care. Although it is possible to conduct an evaluation of the impacts that professional judgments might have and also draw certain conclusions regarding the things that can work. However, it is very difficult in comparison to the testing of drugs in the field of medicine (Lewis, 2002).

Another argument is that what works is usually not a question of evidence or of facts as it is of value. For this it is necessary that the process of policy making is democratic as well as open and which can result in the facilitation of the process of public learning and deliberation instead of control (Parsons, 2001). Knowledge in relation to what is working in a specific field of policy should not have a narrow definition or be overly prescriptive with respect to scientific criteria that are apparently objective. The argument of Parsons is that adoption of EBP by the Government of UK for missed opportunity with respect to improvement of Government and it led to the muddling of relationship between policy making and knowledge and made it more confusing. The intention of the Governments is enhancing their control over the processes of policy making instead of bringing improvements in the capacities of social science for influencing the democratic practices (Parsons, 2002). A similar concern was also shared by Kemeny regarding dictation of research by policy makers (Winter & Seelig, 2001).

Too much faith in the evidence might lead to overconfidence in what we understand which at times might prove to be disastrous. Avery good instance of this is the financial crisis that occurred globally in 2007 with the assumption by banks that they had managed risks properly on the basis of the models of the post-war housing data from the U.S. which was supposed to be sophisticated and also assumptions related to risk distribution. This is an indication that good theory as well as judgment are of greater significance in comparison to good data. Besides this, the metaphysical as well as the moral policy questions are not answered by evidence. Facts do not give rise to values and judgment but examination of one’s conscience and also collective wisdom does (Cross, 2016).

Insistence on policy that is evidence based leads to the transfer of power to the people responsible for assembling and analysing data and effectively excludes the public from the process of decision making. EBP puts the process before the results. The goal does not have to be EBP but it definitely has to be the production of good outcomes and there are a number of ways to achieve that.  The recent years have witnessed tremendous improvements in the society and most of them have been due to the outstanding innovations in the fields of communications and technology that came from the private sector rather than due to better public policies (Cross, 2016).


The relationships that exist between “knowledge, research, policy and practice” are mostly likely to continue to be contingent, shifting and loose. Hence there is no guarantee that either a policy that is good or a research that is good will eventuate in an automatic way, simplistic models with respect to EBP as well as practice and that they might end up as failures like effective prescriptions or accurate descriptions (Davies et al., 2000). Emphasis on the authority’s role and power at the cost of expertise as well as knowledge in public affairs appears to be cynical while emphasis on the latter at the former’s expense appears to be naïve (Solesbury, 2001). The evidence from research will have the maximum impact when the political will is sufficient and the culture of the organisation is such that all types of “evidence” is valued but most of the case studies on policies give attestation to the fact that very rarely is making of policy a case of rational identification of a policy problem and use of the evidence from research for developing as well as for implementing a policy solution (Marston & Watts, 2003) (Bacchi, 1999).

Several proponents of EBP have also shown that evidence does not prevail in all the cases and the reasons for this (Weiss, 2001) (Johnson, 2001). That is why the outcomes might not be expected. At certain occasions the evidence based approach might not be taken due to certain reasons like difficulty in the collection of evidence that is insurmountable, lack of the capacity of the staff to collect evidence and expenses. At times, only a single way of proceeding might be present and everyone agrees on it. In case the only programs and policies are the ones which are based on evidence, then new innovations and ideas would not be present (Johnston, 2001).

It is not necessarily the case that making decision rationally or policy making professionally will result in outcomes that are better in comparison to the ones that are based on intuition, hunches or whatever is “unprofessional policy making”. Improvements in using evidences in policy which consist of case by case agreements regarding what is considered as evidence and under what circumstances and disseminating the evidence effectively where it is required the most and developing means that are effective for wider accessibility to knowledge . For this it is required that the policy makers and also the researchers are context sensitive regarding the types of evidences and research methodologies which are most appropriate to differing circumstances. If these conditions are met, it (Nutley et al., 2002) will still not be a guarantee that various forms of evidence along with research will win over a number of inputs into policy and politics but they will play a role in increasing the prospects of a conceptual and practical relationship between outcomes of policy and evidence which is less simplistic and also more democratic (Nutley, 2003) (Reynolds, 2000).

Conclusion

“Evidence based policy making” and good policy making might not always be synonymous and might not always result in outcomes that are better. However, it can be good policy making if certain improvements are brought about in it. A literature indicates the existence of a general consensus with respect to the ways of improving “evidence based policy making”. It is summarised as clarifications of the relative strengths as well as the weaknesses of the various methodological approaches, use of an approach that is more strategic for the creation of knowledge, dissemination of knowledge in an effective manner along with promotion of large scale accessibility to it, development of ways for improving the evidence intake (Nutley et al., 2002). There is a requirement of developing a certain type of agreement regarding the things that make up the evidence and the context under which it is taken as evidence so that the various kinds of  practice / policy questions can be addressed (Nutley et al., 2002). This concept also receives support from Sanderson who indicates the need for the improvement in evidence base itself and policy development also includes a number of other significant question (Sanderson, 2002). “Evidence based policy making” can also be bad in case the evidence that is used has flaws, is biased, is incomplete or has been ignored. In case all the requirements are met in input as well as utilisation of evidence, policies which make use of evidence among their directives can be bad for some other reasons and lead to outcomes which might not be successful.

Thus, on the basis of the above analysis, it can be concluded that the goal that EBP has is very significant and the fact that a lot of enthusiasm is associated with it provides a great deal of encouragement. Vocal support is being received by this policy at some of the top political levels both within the country as well as outside it in other nations. However, when its measurement is done against the different kinds of parameters for being an approach that can effectively result in producing better outcomes, it is clear that the practices which are being followed currently are not proving to be sufficient. This needs to be addressed primarily by the public services. There is a requirement of bringing about improvements in the public services’ capacity for delivering EBP advice along with requirement of improving political understanding regarding what is entailed by it so that the “evidence based policy making” is able to deliver better outcomes.

Bacchi, C.L., 1999. Women, Policy and Politics. London: SAGE Publications.

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Parsons, W., 2001. Modernising Policy Making for the 21st century: The professional model. Public Policy and Administration, 16(3), pp.93-110.

Parsons, W., 2002. From Muddling Through to Muddling Up Evidence Based Policy Making and the Modernisation of British Government. In Proceedings of the 2002 Annual Political Studies Sssociation Conference. Aberdeen, Scotland, 2002. University of Aberdeen.

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Perri, S., 2002. Can Policy Making be Evidence Based? MCC: Building Knowledge for Integrated Care, 10(1), pp.3-9.

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Weiss, C.S., 2001. What kind of evidence in evidence based policy?. In Third International, Inter-disciplinary Evidence-Baed Policies and IndicatorSystems Conference. Durham, 2001. University of Durham.

Winter, I. & Seelig, T., 2001. Housing Research, Policy Relevance and a Housing Imagination in Australia. [Online] Available at: https://www.cf.ac.uk/cplan/conferences/hsa_sept01/win [Accessed 14 September 2016].

Young, K., Ashby, D. & Grayson, L., 2002. Social Science and the Evidence Based Policy Movement. SocialPolicy and Society, 1(3), pp.215-24.

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