Evidence in policy

Release of an important report on the relationship between evidence and policy formation

Monday, 11 April 2011

One of the key challenges for all governments is how to make the best use of evidence in both policy formation and policy evaluation. The challenges are multiple: to identify what research and knowledge is needed; to identify appropriate sources of that knowledge; to ascertain the validity, quality and relevance of the knowledge obtained; and to understand how that knowledge informs a range of potential policy options. As science has become more complex and impacts on every aspect of our lives, offering solutions to many of the problems the world confronts, these issues become more urgent. Yet science alone does not and should not make policy — it provides a basis of information on which other dimensions, including societal values, public opinion, affordability and diplomatic considerations, must be added while also accommodating the political process. But policy made in the absence of information and science-based evidence can only be made on the basis of dogma, and is less likely to serve the country well.

A further issue is the problem of policy evaluation. The effectiveness of many programmes remains uncertain even after their initiation. For example, many social interventions work well in the pilot phase, but do not work well when implemented at full scale. Thus, on-going evaluation to rigorous standards should be a requirement of all new and existing programmes. Only then is it possible to get beyond political values and have the population engage in understanding which programmes are effective, what is their impact, and thus which should be core to the country’s development.

Over the past 12 months, my Office has conducted an extensive discussion with officials across government and with my partner offices overseas to see if we can better use evidence in policy formation. I believe that there are many ways in which this can be achieved, and I have released a discussion paper entitled Towards better use of evidence in policy formation ( 798 kb). I hope that officials, as well as politicians of all parties, can see how this initiative to improve the quality and integrity of the application of evidence to policy formation can serve the advancement of New Zealand. Feedback is welcome and should be sent to info@pmcsa.org.nz.

 

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