Free research articles for APPAM 2017 from Policy & Politics onthe importance of evidence-based policy making, why measurement matters and, Claire Dunlop on learning from failure.
In celebration of APPAM’s Fall Research Conference theme this year which looks at the importance of measurement in evaluating policy and performance, we have developed a virtual issue of recent research articles based on the conference theme which are free to access from 1-30 November. Just click on the hyperlinks below to go straight to the download page for each article.
Government policy is to build on evidence of what works. So, we conduct randomised controlled trials, we ‘nudge’ citizens, and we evaluate policies to recover evidence of what does or does not work. No one denies that the more you know the better; but how do you acquire knowledge? More importantly what constitutes knowledge? Continue reading →
The role of evidence in policy making, and whether evidence-based policy can ever be a reality, has attracted much debate, both inside and outside academia. In our article on what we refer to as ‘evidence translation’, we try to grapple with these issues. Our academic interest in this area stemmed from research we had conducted separately on similar themes (the role of evidence in policy making), but from different traditions and persuasions. Ingold had focused on ideas relating to ‘policy transfer’ in welfare to work, comparing Denmark with the UK. By contrast, Monaghan had concentrated efforts on understanding the standing of evidence in policy debates often seen, by critics, to be evidence free – in this case the area of UK drug policy. Our substantive areas were not a hindrance to our partnership. Instead, we were very much enthralled by some commentaries in the journal Policy & Politics (and elsewhere) that suggested that both evidence-based policy and policy transfer were fundamentally concerned with the same process, but were literatures that had emerged separately. It was, we felt, a hypothesis worth exploring, but more than that we quickly arrived at the conclusion that there was much to be learned by each literature from the other. Continue reading →
Professors Chris Weible and Paul Cairney were the successful applicants for our 2019 special issue call for proposals. This blog post summarises a recent workshop held in Colorado on their topic Practical Lessons from Policy Theories by way of presaging some of the key research themes they will pursue in their special issue.
Policy theories provide profound lessons for people trying to understand and engage with the policy process. As policy scholars we often take them for granted, but for non-specialists they can represent a new way of thinking. So, sharing these insights helps scholars and practitioners. Explaining our theories clearly gives us a new way to take stock of policy theory: how does it help us think about and act within the policy process?
That’s why we asked a group of experts to describe the ‘state of the art’ in their field and the practical lessons that they offer. Continue reading →
In this excellent paper, Zachary Morris seeks to address an important and politically timely question – Why are some welfare state programmes more susceptible to retrenchment than others? The paper examines why the major disability benefit programme in the United States has proved resistant to austerity measures while the comparable disability programme in Great Britain has been repeatedly scaled back. This engaging comparative analysis reveals that both structural differences matter greatly, as does the way that policy ideas are communicated to the public. In Britain, the portrayal of beneficiaries as underserving proved critical for constructing the need for retrenchment. Continue reading →
An extended version of this post was originally published in the Policy Briefing section of Discover Society which is provided in collaboration with the journal Policy & Politics. The original post is available at http://discoversociety.org/category/policy-briefing/.
Referendums are increasingly used worldwide to allow citizens to directly decide about important policy issues. However, there is growing concern about whether citizens are properly informed when they make their choice in these usually complex referendum questions. For example, many commentators and editorials have argued in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum that facts and scientific evidence was politicised and not correctly used during the referendum campaign. Citizens, so it is argued, had made their decisions based on twisted facts.
However, in the context of a referendum campaign, facts, data and scientific evidence are always used politically. In other word, politicians, interest groups and governments always select those findings and data that fit their position and interpret scientific evidence in accordance with their political conviction. So yes, scientific evidence is politicized in referendum campaigns, but is this necessarily a bad thing? Based on the findings of a multiyear research project on the political use of scientific evidence in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns, I argue that scientific evidence, even when politically used, has the potential to enrich a referendum campaign in several ways. Continue reading →
In a recent column in The Telegraph, Allister Heath claims that the humanities and social sciences are suffering from increasing groupthink, inwardness and irrelevance – creating an environment in which certain political outlooks are suppressed and academic research rarely resonates beyond the hallowed halls of the university. Such an account simply does not square with the realities of universities in 21st Century Britain. Heath praises the University world of the twentieth century but then neglects the golden rule that drove that work and is still present in twenty-first century academia: make sure you have robust evidence to support your arguments. In terms of academic research, the supposed thought police of the left are in little evidence in the pluralistic university faculties that we know across the U.K., places in which rich debates over theory and methods take place.
When it comes to Heath’s arguments over the narrow reach of academic research in terms of citation, Heath’s arguments rely on tenuous evidence. The claim that “98 per cent of academic papers in the arts and humanities are never cited in any subsequent research” comes from a twenty-five year old study that was at the time shown to have been misleading. Continue reading →
It remains the priority of policy makers to show that they have put in place well designed policies that have demonstrable effect, in order to give a good account of their time in office. Whilst many depictions of the policy process focus on something that is driven from the ‘top down’, implementation scholars have over several decades provided particular understanding of the ‘bottom-up’, looking more qualitatively at organisational responses to policy initiatives. Through developments in New Public Management to current research on policy design, studies have moved away from the dichotomous ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ and yet the problem of how to understand policy implementation endures.
At the same time, the current drive for ‘evidence-based policy’ is premised on the belief that if policies can be designed on the best evidence, it is more likely that they will be implemented with measurable effect in terms of desired outcomes. Policy makers believe both in the positive effects of evidence behind the policy and the translation of that evidence-based policy into practice. In the UK health Continue reading →
by Dr Kathryn Oliver, Provost Fellow in Knowledge and Policy Networks at University College London.
With a general election just around the corner, everyone is on high alert for scandals. No one (well, ok – everyone except the politicians) wants to see another Bullingdon Club revelation, or a phone-hacking story. While there are a myriad ways for a politician to damage their credibility, it seems that old-boy’s networks are pretty widely understood to be Bad News. Getting a job or any other benefit through a friend, a school-mate, a wife, or a man you met down the pub is – however usual – frowned on.
But human beings, like all primates, are social beings. This does not stop being the case just because people have got decision-making tasks. Interpersonal connections are known to influence everything from where policymakers find evidence, create agendas, develop policies – in fact, as our systematic review showed, every part of the policy process. Continue reading →
Recently, there has been much debate about the best approach to take with those returning from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Various proposals have been mooted, from forcing them to attend ‘deradicalisation programmes’ to banning them from returning to the UK. Relatively few of these ideas are rooted in a strong evidence base. That is in part because we still have much to learn about what might motivate someone to permanently reject violent extremism.
Although knowledge about what might inform the movement away from terrorism has developed in recent years, we have only a limited understanding of the aims of this work. Questions remain over what it is that interventions with those who have been involved in terrorism should seek to achieve. Is it ‘deradicalisation’, commonly understood as attitudinal change? Or is it disengagement, focusing more on behavioural change? And by what measures might we recognise ‘successful deradicalisation’? This last question is the focus of my recent paper: ‘Conceptualising ‘success’ with those convicted of terrorism offences’.
These questions are not only of concern to policy makers and academics, they are a significant issue for those on the frontline of this work, those organisations, such as the probation services, who are tasked with supervising convicted ‘terrorists’ when they have been released from prison. In my research with statutory and community-based organisations working with former prisoners, this question of what the work was seeking to achieve represented a significant gap in the knowledge base.
To better understand this issue, I spent many hours interviewing and observing practitioners. Through this, I developed a framework for understanding what the work was trying to achieve. Grouped under two broad headings of public protection and reducing the risk of reoffending/encouraging desistance, I identified 13 measures by which to interpret the processes involved with trying to move someone away from extremism. Three broad conclusions about what might constitute effective engagement emerged from the research:
Rather than attempting to explicitly ‘deradicalise’ or ‘deprogramme’ individuals, there was a concerted effort to reintegrate them back into society. For example, helping them to develop more positive social networks or supporting them as they tried to find work.
Instead of focusing exclusively on trying to deconstruct the motivation to reoffend, there were attempts – particularly from community-based organisations – to redirect this motivation. For instance, if someone was concerned with issues around social justice, there were efforts to find an outlet within the local community that might enable the individual to pursue these goals in a way that contributed to, rather than threatened, society.
Finally, attention was paid to developing resilience to negative influences that might undermine any growing commitment to reintegrating back into wider society. Developing former prisoners’ critical thinking skills was one way practitioners tried to do this, enabling them to interrogate the information designed to motivate them to re-engage in extremist networks in a more critical light.
Importantly, the processes involved with moving people away from extremism are complex and highly individualised. Practitioners therefore reflected the need to listen carefully to each person’s account of his or her involvement, and understand the particular issues relevant to their journey into and out of extremism. The need to approach the person holistically rather than focusing on specific ideological, attitudinal, or behavioural measures of ‘risk’ also emerged as an important part of best practice. Finally, taking into account the significant barriers faced by these former prisoners was vital. People convicted of ‘ordinary’ crime face challenges finding work and being accepted into the community, those convicted of terrorism offences face even tougher hurdles.
However difficult it is to talk about ‘rehabilitating terrorists’, if the aims of successful reintegration and long-term public protection are to be met, it is a conversation we need to have. Not least because meaningful reintegration demands not only a commitment from the individual, but also one from society, that they will accept the individual back into the community and allow them to move on.