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What is evidence-based policy?


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Lari Hokkanen's take on evidence-based policy

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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What is evidence-based policy?

  1. 1. Lari Hokkanen Breakfast Seminar 2.3.2017 What is evidence-based policy? (I don’t know.)
  2. 2. Not that simple, sorry
  3. 3. A brief survey of the field • Technocrats: will save the world (somehow) • Political theorists: technocrats do not understand what politics is (power! values! interests! disagreements!) • Politicians: well yeah.. umm.. kinda good idea but… • Civil servants: We have a lot to do already • Economists (“randomistas”): let’s do RCTs and all is fine • Philosophers of science: Umm.. The metaphysics of causality... • Scientists in general: we don’t have time to communicate our results and twitter is so hard
  4. 4. They all get something right! • Politics will get better with the use of evidence • Politics is mostly about interests and values • Politicians do their job fast and with limited information • Civil servants are busy • RCTs are superb evidence (if interpreted right) • Talk about causality is important • It’s hard to communicate the results of studies to political actors
  5. 5. Utopia Evidence-based policy: Scientists produce quality evidence → Politicians use it wisely as a basis for public policy Reality? Policy-based evidence: Scientists produce quality evidence → Politicians cherry pick results to support their political beliefs So we get something like this
  6. 6. How policymakers think • Politics isn’t science: evidence is only one thing that affects political decisions – several other principles of good policymaking: consensus, public opinion • Cognitive shortcuts: rational (prioritizing certain kinds of information) and irrational (gut feelings, deeply held beliefs, feelings) • Have to do decisions fastly; have to try to evaluate things without deep understanding • Evidence can be against values → values win • Evidence is always interpreted through one’s own ideological lens • Policy process is complex: there is not only one point where to inject evidence
  7. 7. What counts as good evidence? Hierarchy of evidence - Comes from evidence-based medicine: idea is that RCTs are best to produce causal claims - But not that simple: RCTs are good but most studies in social sciences observational studies which are also good
  8. 8. Getting evidence: why do we need experiments (RCTs)? - World is becoming harder place to understand without experimenting - Social problems = Wicked problems - Civil servants might not know how reality works - (Even comparative) evidence on policies usually context dependent → it’s good to try them in our own context
  9. 9. The golden standard(?): randomized controlled trial
  10. 10. A methodological word of caution - RCTs are a bit overhyped but still really good - The results from RCTs are context dependent - contextual differences will shape intervention outcomes - It’s a big discussion about what we can infer from them RCTs: need to think about the mechanisms behind results (not a problem) - Other sources of evidence are also needed because they are black box - explanations (mechanisms) - RCTs good at internal validity and generating causal claims, but generalizing is not easy when we talk about complex issues (as opposed to examples from medicine)
  11. 11. “[In education] ‘what works?’, which is what politicians would love to know about, is the not the right question, because [in education] everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere. The interesting question is ‘under what conditions does this work?’“
  12. 12. The nature of evidence • Evidence is evidence of something for someone: pluralism • Evidence is uncertain and context-dependent • There are no common standards for evaluating evidence - what counts as good evidence? And for whom? • Evidence-based policy need (mostly) quantative causal knowledge; unfortunately it’s hard to infer (universal) causal mechanisms even from the best studies • Aaann.. Evidence-producing science is also value-based (to some extent) → plurality of views within disciplines • If scientists cannot decide what counts as good evidence, how can politicians?
  13. 13. Beyond methods: different disciplines offer conflicting evidence - Most policies are still designed based on assumptions about rational action (economics) - e.g. taxing, monetary incentives in social policy - Incentives are good to keep in mind but we are also quite irrational - What if we would look empirically how people act and design policies based on that? - Problem: many disciplines with good ideas contradicting with each other → how to do policy recommendations?
  14. 14. My (very preliminary) thoughts • Evidence-based policy is more ex tempore testing of policies (experimental governance) than trying to get meta-analyses into political processes – Like this: There is emerging evidence on the effects of policy x (might work, or not) → Let’s try with RCT & other methods in our context to see if it works here – Limited testing is better than not testing (finnish basic income experiment) – Fostering the culture of experimentation is thus important – Evidence should be fitted to politicians’ mindsets: workshops, scenario building, policy briefs