The field of evidence informed policy has been rapidly changing. Over the last decade it has become a favourite of international development funders. The field cuts across sectors and disciplines; which is both a strength and a weakness.
For us who do not work within a particular sector or discipline our work can sometimes feel a bit theoretical; but for those attempting to change things from within a sector or field maintaining an interest in evidence informed policy can be a challenge.
To produce this article I asked ChatGPT a few questions:
- I first asked it to: Write an 800 word article on the challenges that evidence informed policy faced in 2022.
- I then added: Please include real examples in the text above. Also refer to the specific challenges that think tanks face. The article will be published in onthinktanks.org
- Finally: Include recommendations for funders of research and evidence informed policy in the recommendations above.
Evidence informed policy
Evidence-informed policy refers to the use of research evidence, along with other forms of knowledge and expertise, to inform the development and implementation of policies and programs. The goal of evidence-informed policy is to use the best available evidence to inform decision-making, in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of policies and programs and to achieve desired outcomes.
The process of evidence-informed policy typically involves the identification and synthesis of relevant research evidence, the analysis of the strengths and limitations of the evidence, and the application of the evidence to inform policy decisions. It also involves engaging with various stakeholders, including policymakers, practitioners, and the general public, to ensure that research evidence is considered in a transparent and inclusive manner.
Evidence-informed policy is an important approach to policymaking, as it helps to ensure that policies and programs are based on the best available evidence and are more likely to achieve their intended goals. It is used in a variety of fields, including health care, education, social policy, and environmental policy, among others.
There are several challenges that this approach may face.
One challenge is the availability and accessibility of high-quality research and data. Policymakers often rely on academic research to inform their decisions, but this research can be difficult to find and understand. In addition, there may be a lack of data on certain topics, or the data that does exist may be unreliable or biased. For example, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has faced criticism for its handling of data on the COVID-19 pandemic, including allegations of politicization of data and lack of transparency. This can make it difficult for policymakers to make informed decisions and can lead to the implementation of policies that are not based on sound evidence.
Another challenge is the politicization of research and data. In some cases, policymakers may cherry-pick data or research that supports their preexisting beliefs or agendas, rather than considering a range of evidence. This can lead to the distortion or manipulation of research to fit political objectives, rather than using it to inform policy decisions. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Brexit debate was characterized by the use of conflicting data and research by different political parties, making it difficult for the public to differentiate between evidence-based arguments and those that were motivated by political agendas.
A third challenge is the complexity of the policymaking process. Policymakers must consider a range of factors when developing and implementing policies, including economic, social, and political considerations. This can make it difficult to identify and prioritize the most important evidence, and to ensure that it is integrated into the policymaking process in a meaningful way. For example, in considering policies to address climate change, policymakers must consider not only the scientific evidence on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, but also economic and political factors such as the costs and benefits of different policy options.
A fourth challenge is the speed at which policies need to be developed and implemented. In some cases, policymakers may be under pressure to make quick decisions in response to emerging issues or crises. This can make it difficult to take the time to thoroughly review and consider the evidence, which can lead to the implementation of policies that are not based on sound evidence. For example, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments were under pressure to quickly implement lockdown measures and other policies to mitigate the spread of the virus. This may have led to the implementation of policies that were not based on a thorough review of the available evidence.
A fifth challenge is the role of special interests and lobbying in the policymaking process. In some cases, special interest groups may exert influence on policymakers by providing them with research or data that supports their agendas. This can make it difficult for policymakers to distinguish between evidence that is based on sound research and evidence that is being used to promote a particular agenda. For example, in the United States, pharmaceutical companies and other special interest groups have been accused of influencing the development of healthcare policies through their lobbying efforts.
Think tanks also face specific challenges in the area of evidence-informed policy. One challenge is the funding of research, which can influence the conclusions that are drawn. Think tanks that rely on funding from specific sources, such as industry or government, may be subject to bias in their research. In addition, think tanks may face pressure to produce research that supports the agendas of their funders, rather than conducting unbiased and objective research.
Overall, evidence-informed policy plays a crucial role in the development and implementation of public policies. However, there are a range of challenges that this approach faces in 2022. By addressing these challenges, policymakers and think tanks can ensure that their research and data are of high quality and are used to inform evidence-based policy decisions that serve the best interests of the public.
There are a few steps that policymakers and think tanks can take to address these challenges. First, it is important to ensure that research and data are of high quality and are obtained from reliable sources. This can be achieved through the use of rigorous research methods and the implementation of measures such as peer review to ensure the quality of the research.
Second, policymakers and think tanks should be transparent about the sources of their funding and the motivations behind their research. This can help to ensure that research is not influenced by special interests or biased agendas. Funders of research and evidence-informed policy can also play a role in promoting transparency by requiring grantees to disclose their funding sources and by conducting due diligence on the research projects they fund.
Third, policymakers should be open to a range of evidence and perspectives when making decisions. This can help to ensure that decisions are based on a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand, rather than relying on a single source or perspective. Funders of research and evidence-informed policy can support this goal by funding a diverse range of research projects and by encouraging grantees to consider a range of evidence and perspectives in their work.
Finally, policymakers and think tanks should be aware of the limitations of research and data. While research and data can provide valuable insights, they cannot provide all of the answers. Policymakers must also consider other factors, such as public opinion, ethical considerations, and the potential unintended consequences of their decisions. Funders of research and evidence-informed policy can support this goal by funding research that is designed to address the limitations of existing evidence and by encouraging grantees to consider the potential unintended consequences of their work.
Evidence-informed policy plays a crucial role in the development and implementation of public policies. However, there are a range of challenges that this approach faces. By addressing these challenges, policymakers and think tanks can ensure that their research and data are of high quality and are used to inform evidence-based policy decisions that serve the best interests of the public. Funders of research and evidence-informed policy can also play a role in promoting transparency, diversity, and awareness of the limitations of research by supporting these goals in the research projects they fund.
The result above offers some positive surprises: it different forms of knowledge and engagement with multiple stakeholders. These are not common considerations among the most dominant members of the evidence informed policy community who take a very linear and technocratic view on how research evidence should inform policy.
It is also important that while the definition fails to consider politics and power the challenges and recommendations do. The final recommendation to funders even states that they need to consider the unintended consequences of their work.