What is evidence-based policymaking and implementation?

What is evidence-based policymaking and implementation?


Evidence-based policy refers to the use of available evidence to guide policy in the process of decision-making. Evidence is the results of statistical data or scientific research. Policy, on the other hand, is a set of principles that are usually set by the legislators which are used to inform decisions. Advocates of the evidence-based policy argue that the policy decisions are enhanced when they are guided by well-researched scientific evidence. However, the critics of policy refute that public policies cannot be informed by scientific evidence alone and stress that other agents such as political science play an important role in shaping policies.


What is an example of evidence-based policy?


Findings from a thorough study can be used to inform decisions for policy-makers and, thus, solve some of the common issues related to evidence-based policy. Many people often regard figures and numbers from quantitative research as accurate and conclusive. This is, however, erroneous since the figures and numbers are derived through a process involving a lot of assumptions and estimates (Jerrim and de Vries, 2017). It is, therefore, vital to include any difficulties that were met when analyzing and documenting the data as well as note possible errors in measurement. Also, for quantitative evidence to be confidently used by policymakers, transparency is critical – the available figures should be verifiable by independent researchers. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely for results to be truly verifiable even where the data is publicly available and free to download (Jerrim and de Vries, 2017). This is because the program codes used to produce the data could have been reduced to a few instructions making it difficult to replicate the data in the absence of the specific program code that was used. On the other hand, there are risks of providing program codes since any mistakes the author made can be exposed. For example, an error made by the original researcher can have a significant difference in the results obtained by the researcher who caught the error.





The major barriers perceived to limit the implementation of the evidence-based policy were false perceptions about the power a professional has, lack of independence at work, heavy workloads in the workplace and implementation of poor strategies. The study conducted on health technology assessment (HTA) professionals in Canada showed that the professionals often used their roles to legitimize pieces of evidence even in a highly polarized political environment. According to Ducey and colleagues, the roles of these professionals were to provide evidence on how they generate quality assessments and ensure their impacts on policy but not to make decisions (2017). Further analysis of the data indicated that the HTA professionals wished to be independent of industries such as pharmaceutical companies as that would help in assembling good evidence from their researches.

In another study conducted in a mental health facility in Scotland, the improper implementation of the knowledge-brokering approach obstructed the transfer of evidence into policy. This approach identified the components that are necessary for transferring knowledge into action which includes problem identification, research development, context analysis, knowledge transfer activities, and knowledge utilization (Reid et al., 2017). An Outcome Framework was used to facilitate the study at the NHS Health Scotland. When the data collected was analyzed, the results indicated that the framework used focused on outputs rather than outcomes. Shifting to an outcome approach could help the workers since it would align well with what they were trying to do and, thus, increase their chances for success (Mansson and Lundin, 2017). The second barrier was that managers poorly managed their teams whereby reduced teams were put under pressure to deliver more by introducing additional workloads. Another barrier to using the framework was the lack of a way to measure evidence or show outcomes. A further barrier regarded the timing and publication of the Framework as it coincided with another document that was released by the Scottish government which led to the adoption of the government’s document instead of the Framework (Reid et al., 2017). This study, therefore, showed some of the realities that should be taken into account before implementing a framework such as the knowledge-brokering strategy.

There are two forms of bias in evidence-based policy – political and research bias. Research bias arises from the use of evidence without following scientific best practices. An example of this form of bias is publication bias. Political bias, on the other hand, highlights the interests of politicians and how they misuse and manipulate evidence to suit their political objectives. Policies generated by political bias are based on prejudiced evidence and are the result of decisions made by the authorities to serve their political goals (Sima, 2017). The rationale of the author represents the political elements that manipulate research to produce the desired outcome.

Publication bias is whereby publishers choose which academic journals to publish and which ones not to but without following scientific merit. Research has shown that a majority of publishers prefer positive findings to negative results (Jerrim and de Vries, 2017). If policymakers are only exposed to one side of research, it would limit their ability to make informed decisions. Where the uninteresting findings are rarely included in final results, the evidence base is consequently likely to exaggerate social problems as well as influence the decisions of policymakers in effecting change. Bias may yet be delivered to audiences through channels other than academic journals (Gough and Boaz, 2017). For example, the mainstream media, which is popular for delivering controversial and sensitive findings, often focus on the most exaggerated results.

Even though there is extensive recognition that evidence shapes policy, the approach is premised on a simple and linear model of the policy process which is contrary to the complex relationship between evidence and policy. Usually, research results must be contested and debated before an agreement is reached and recommendations made based on the results. Even then, presenting the results to policymakers to be implemented and used to inform decisions will possibly not work because policy processes are seldom linear. Besides evidence, other agents such as political science and sociology are involved in influencing the policy process. Evidence, therefore, only plays a part role in the policy process. Findings from a study conducted in Germany in the field of labor market showed that in the 1990s policies were primarily developed by influential social partners who were individuals with existing strong ties and common memberships in various agencies (Krapp and Pannowitsch, 2017). That was however not the sole determiner in the process of formulating policies because other determinants such as research-based evidence were also relevant for policy formulation (Krapp and Pannowitsch, 2017). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the policy-making process of the British labor markets was based on evidence even though other agents had minor influences on the policy process. Due to the legal restraints and lack of a powerful evaluation strategy, inadequate research was often done and evidence was obtained through lessons learned from abroad by those who had contact with the Americans (Krapp and Pannowitsch, 2017). Beginning in 1992, new labor markets emerged which created an emphasis on the use of academic researchers to influence the policy process.