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 →
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 →
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 →
Given the UK Coalition government’s apparent ‘misuse’ of statistics in a range of policy areas, questions are often raised about the use of evidence in policymaking. Our key concern in this article is how evidence, ideas and knowledge are used (or not) in the policy process, drawing on a series of focus groups with 75 analysts and policy advisers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP seemed a good place to explore this issue – under New Labour it saw a huge increase in the number of evaluations and is currently the home of ‘flagship’ government policies such as Universal Credit and the Work Programme. Continue reading →