Rethinking evidence-based policy

Publication date: 16 Mar 2021 | Publication type: National Institute Economic Review | NIESR Author(s): Pabst, A | JEL Classification: D81; D91; H83 | Journal: National Institute Economic Review Issue 255 | Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Much of public policy has in recent decades been driven by the idea of evidence-based policy – policy rooted in the principles of social science and, more specifically, empirical validation based on social and behavioural science. This article argues that evidence-based policy, while helping to improve the design of policies aimed at changing individual behaviour, lacks a recognition that individual and group choices are embedded in social relationships and institutions. There is a risk of over-relying not only on probabilistic models that under-state our condition of ‘radical uncertainty’ but also on data and metrics that are disconnected from the everyday experience of workers and citizens whose needs and interests cannot always be measured or managed. Since uncertainty is a fundamental reality of both the economy and social life, policy-making needs robust conceptual narratives to make sense of numbers and provide a sound basis on which to make decisions allied to ethical judgements.

Keyword tags: 
evidence-based policy
probabilistic models
uncertainty
judgement