Where next for evidence and policy in post-Brexit Britain – according to British academics?

19 October 2018

A series of speakers (and authors) at an academic event in June 2017 attempted to address “role of and responses to experts and expertise in the changing political landscape in regards to evidence and policymaking in post-Brexit Britain.”

This is a rather great series of presentation on the current state of the evidence informed policy debate. It is UK centric for the most part but perfectly relevant to other contexts.

The panel is based on a series of articles edited by Paul Cairney (University of Stirling, UK) which can be found here.

The main message is summarised in the introduction to the series:

Many academics, in areas such as health and environmental policy, bemoan the inevitability of ‘policy based evidence’ rather than ‘evidence-based policy’. Some express the naïve view that policymakers should think like scientists and/or that evidence-based policymaking should be more like the ideal of evidence-based medicine in which everyone supports a hierarchy of evidence. Others try to work out how they can improve the supply of evidence or set up new institutions to get policymakers to pay more attention to it.

Yet, a more pragmatic solution is to work out how and why policymakers demand information, and the political and complex policymaking context in which they operate. Only then can we produce evidence-based strategies based on how the world works rather than how we would like it to work. This new strategy requires new skills, such as the ability to turn a large amount of scientific evidence into simple and effective stories that appeal to the biases of policymakers, and to form alliances with key actors operating in many levels and types of government. It also requires scholars of policy to turn their scientific understanding of how policymaking works into a practical understanding of how to operate effectively within it.

While this ought to be old news for think tanks it should not come as a surprise that some researchers still pursue a “let evidence speak for itself” approach. And many of their research centres’ business models reflect this view.

Also, in case you miss it, extra points for Kathryn Oliver for bringing her baby along and James Wilsdon for lending a hand when it was her turn to speak.

Watch more (Q&A) here.