Evidence-based policy as a political ideal

Authors: Kat Smith and Paul Cairney

This post was originally published by the Evidence & Policy blog on 11 May 2020.

We have re-issued the article that has already been published by the Evidence & Policy blog. We would like to express gratitude to the kind offer of the editorial board of the Evidence & Policy blog.

(Image credit: Evidence & Policy blog Kat Smith and Paul Cairney)

This new blog helps make the insights within Evidence & Policy accessible to all. In this opening post, the current Editors reflect on what they feel are some of the key insights about the interplay between evidence and policy:

1. Evidence does not tell us what to do.

It helps reduce uncertainty, but does not tell us how we should interpret problems or what to do about them.

2. There is no such thing as ‘the evidence’.

Instead, there is a large number of researchers with different backgrounds, making different assumptions, asking different questions, using different methods, and addressing different problems. Synthesising their research can be useful for policymakers, but risks providing advice from a too-narrow perspective. Similarly, focusing on a particular set of experts may exclude important insights from other disciplines.

3. Policy-relevant evidence is contestable and open to interpretation.

Researchers interpret data differently and debate the scientific implications which can lead to scientific controversy. Making a policy recommendation involves a further step in contestation and interpretation, which can pose dilemmas for researchers.