The state of evidence-based policy evaluation and its role in policy formation

Pub. Date
03 February, 2012

This paper argues that evidence-based policy has clearly made a worldwide impact, at least at the rhetorical and institutional levels, and in terms of analytical activity. The paper then addresses whether or not evidence-based policy evaluation has had an impact on policy formation and public service delivery. The paper uses a model of research-use that suggests that evidence can be used in instrumental, conceptual and symbolic ways. Taking four examples of the use of evidence in the UK over the past decade, this paper argues that evidence can be used instrumentally, conceptually and symbolically in complementary ways at different stages of the policy cycle and under different policy and political circumstances. The fact that evidence is not always used instrumentally, in the sense of “acting on research results in specific, direct ways” (Lavis et al., 2003, p. 228), does not mean that it has little or no influence. The paper ends by considering some of the obstacles to getting research evidence into policy and practice, and how these obstacles might be overcome.