Show your workings. Assessing how government uses evidence to make policy


On October 2015, Jill Rutter and Jen Gold, from the Institute of Government, published the report Show your workings. Assessing how government uses evidence to make policy.  As underlined in the text, although during the last 35 years has been given much prominence to the “evidence-based policy making”, it’s still not possible to understand whether government departments and public servants used/are using evidence well or not. The basis and the objectives of the work are found in the words of Mr Halpern, What Works National Adviser, in the introduction to the text:

There will always be many factors that go into a policy decision, such as the legitimate political commitments of an elected government. But the wise and appropriate use of evidence should be at the heart of policy too: what is the problem; what are its causes; and what might work to change it? 

Starting from this statement, the authors’ idea was to compare and rank departments on the basis of their use of evidence, in order to identify best practices that can serve as standards for others. The approach that has been used is described in detail in the text: in order to develop a framework allowing a useful assessment of departments’ use of evidence in policy making, researchers have opted for an interactive approach, even though there have been obstacles in its development, for examples in the choice of the issues involved or in the definition of the evidence base for policy; however, through this approach it was possible to arrive at two important conclusions about the evidence base behind policy making: the first one is related to the importance of transparency of the evidence base (the decision’s basis has to be transparent) and the second one is related to the quality and the application of the evidence base (it requires people with a deep subject’s knowledge). To rate the evidence base behind policymaking the researchers developed an assessment framework (Evidence transparency Framework) with a transparency standard for each step of the assessment: this framework is available within the text and also at this link. At the end of the text the authors formulate some meaningful recommendations to policymakers on the presentation of policies to the public, highlighting in particular the importance of the compliance of policies with the standards of transparency; the authors’ recommendations are addressed non only to governments but also to Parliaments and influencing bodies outside governments: transparency should not be just a governments ‘prerogative but it should permeate the activities of all the public authorities and also affect the action of influencing bodies outside governments, such as non governmental organizations, in order to enhance the citizens’ trust.

Finally, annexed to the text, there is the presentation of the Evidence Check initiative, launched by the House of Commons Education Committee in November 2014.

(Eleonora Paris)