by Clementine Hill O’Connor, Katherine Smith & Ellen Stewart
Balancing evidence with public preferences – a pressing policy dilemma?
How can policy organisations balance competing (and sometimes conflicting) imperatives to strengthen the role of evidence in policy, with simultaneous calls to better engage diverse publics? Academic research has much to say about both the value of evidence for policymaking and there are multiple studies examining evidence use in policy and assessing efforts to increase (or improve) the policymakers’ engagement with evidence. Academics have also been involved in developing a wide range of methods through which publics can be involved in policymaking. Perhaps surprisingly, these contributions are rarely connected. So, despite sharing a fundamental concern with the basis on which policy is made and a (sometimes implicit) claim to improve policy, these two areas of academic work are rarely connected. This is important because this disconnect creates real world challenges for people working in policy settings. This disconnect is the focus of our recent research published in Policy & Politics entitled Integrating Evidence and Public Engagement in Policy Work: An empirical examination of three UK policy organisations.
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 →