Evidence-based public policy has grown into a key government approach to policy making. It is a method that helps people make knowledgeable decisions about policies, programmes and projects by utilising the best-available evidence from research studies to develop and implement policy. It is widely recognised that policy based on systematically-collected and systematically-analysed evidence is sounder and produces better results than other methods such as opinion-based policy, which relies on either selective evidence or untested individual or group viewpoints.

The evidence-based policy school of thought influences policy on the basis of research evidence which has been thoroughly investigated and critically appraised with respect to explicit and transparent criteria. Indeed, evidence-based policy recognises the fact that not all research carried out is of a sufficiently high quality to be at the heart of policymaking. Imprecise objectives, weak research designs, methodological flaws, inadequate statistical reporting and analysis, sample selection bias, selective data, undermine many studies and make for results which are not supported by the data provided. Moreover, a systematic review should be generalisable with respect to the entire population and thus overcome the disadvantages of studies which are sample-specific, time-specific, and/or context-specific.

For policy-relevant evidence, both quantitative data and qualitative information are essential. Quantitative evidence for policymaking can take many forms, ranging from information found in peer-reviewed journals to policy and program evaluations. It may also consist of primary quantitative data gathered by researchers through experiments, secondary quantitative data collected by government agencies, and interview or questionnaire-based surveys. On the other hand, qualitative evidence entails non-numeric observations collected by techniques such as observation of participants, group interviews and focus groups. Other research methodologies involve utilising specialist knowledge and carrying out stakeholder consultations. Moreover, research can be carried out internally. For instance, in any policy area there is a vast amount of valuable evidence, which is held by agencies, schools, hospitals, and the people to whom the policy is addressed. Very frequently, these groups will have a clearer idea than the policy makers will about existing problems and what will work or otherwise. Collecting this evidence through techniques such as interviews, surveys and focus groups can provide a particularly significant input to the policy-making process and can often be done rapidly. It is important to note that whatever methodologies are employed, evidence based policy necessitates high-quality data, from a diversity of sources, analytical skills and political support.

Evidence-based policy faces a number of challenges. For instance, assuming that, in reality, all forms of evidence share identical importance would be a mistake. Policy makers tend to make hierarchical judgements in selecting which evidence to use. Evidence is often characterised as being objective (quantitative research) or subjective (qualitative research). Such classification leads to risks and failures with respect to the evidence-based policy method. This occurs because a hierarchy weighted in favour of evidencedeemed to be objective generates a risk that evidence-based policy will be utilised to overlook evidence that comes low in the hierarchy such as tacit knowledge forms and practice-based wisdom.

Moreover, there is also the threat that due to time pressures, unreliable and inaccurate evidence is produced. While urgency and action rapidity may be comprehensible under a wide range of circumstances, selective evidence and evidence that is not subjected to critical appraisal and risk assessment can frequently lead to inappropriate courses of action. To cater for this threat, rapid evidence assessments and interim evidence assessments are being developed to provide real time research synthesis in order to help policy makers utilise existing research evidence. These approaches are, however, utilised cautiously and on condition that a fully-developed systematic review may then alter their policy implications.

The team at Equinox Advisory can assist you in a number of areas in relation to evidence-based public policy appraisals, utilising both quantitative and qualitative methods. These include:

  • Analysis of suitability and reliability of existing evidence;
  • Construction of a comprehensive and robust evidence base in order to create and support future policy through economic impact assessments, project appraisals, policy research and policy evaluations;
  • Identification of policy elements that are likely to be effective through systematic reviews and other scientific research;
  • Appraisal of the probable effects of future policy changes through scenario building and forecasting tools so as to select between different policy options; and
  • Provision of reliable evidence on the cost of policies, programmes or projects and on the cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit, and cost-utility of diverse courses of action by utilising tools such as multi-criteria analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, cost-benefit analysis, cost-utility analysis, decision analysis, simulation modelling and meta-analysis.
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