Research-Based Evidence in Public Policy: MRIA Report

Interesting set of observations on government use of research-based evidence in a recent interview-based study by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA). Good cross-section of public servants (mainly former, including myself), politicians, political staff, evaluation experts, representatives of think tanks and NGOs, academics, POR experts and the media.

Flattered to be in included in such a group and the observations and conclusions reinforce many of the same themes as Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism:

Subordinating evidence to politics was the most frequently identified perceived shortcoming in the way government uses information. This was seen to take various forms, including:

  1. ‘Cherry-picking’ or focussing on information that supports a certain agenda or policy and at the same time ignoring or dismissing information that does not.
  2. Employing a self-serving, partisan bias in the decision- making process (e.g., what will enhance electoral success rather than what constitutes sound policy).
  3. Basing policy on hunches, unfounded assumptions, or anecdotal evidence instead of research-based evidence.
  4. Giving greater importance to the opinions of a certain audience even when the issue relates to a broader population.

Three other perceived shortcomings in the way government uses data were also identified relatively frequently:

  1. Insufficient analysis of data (e.g., focussing on nation-wide findings without examining regional variations).
  2. Focusing on shorter-term considerations (e.g., the electoral cycle, the next budget) instead of longer-term considerations (e.g., the demographics of an aging population and its implications).
  3. Too many restrictions on data linking and sharing which ultimately impedes the government’s ability to collect and use relevant information.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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