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Evidence for the many

31 Jul 2017

Using evidence well isn’t a ‘nice to have’; it is essential to good policy making. We’re working to move from theory into practice.

The Migration Advisory Committee have been commissioned by the government to look at EU migration. In the Home Secretary’s letter, she stated:

“The Government will want to ensure that decisions on the long-term arrangements are based on evidence. The commission that we are now asking the MAC to undertake is very much part of this.”

In a speech in January, the Schools Minister, stated:

“The evidence must constrain education experts. Their recommendations must be evidence-based. As education ministers, we have a vital role – and I would even say a duty – to base our policies on sound evidence, not fashionable, experimental theory.”

So far, so good?

In theory.

Whether it’s the Home Office implying that businesses use tier 2 skilled migrants to undercut wages of UK nationals in a press release for a report that states there is in fact a wage premium (in all but public sector) for tier 2 migrant workers; or the cherry picking of evidence on social mobility to support the decision to resurrect grammar schools, in practice using evidence well can get very messy indeed.

We want to see government taking an increasingly evidence-informed approach to policymaking so that expertise, evidence and knowledge can be used to make policies smarter and, ultimately, lives better. Recognising that using evidence well is difficult, and that the UK’s science advice structures and mechanisms are viewed favorably by the international community, our evidence report published in April makes 14 recommendations for improvements.

And this isn’t a ‘nice to have’ once we’ve sorted out some of the tricky issues at the top of the government’s agenda, which are legion. It is completely essential to ensure that decisions on the trickiest of issues can be well informed and have the best chance of resulting in effective policies and limited unintended consequences.

Improving the use of evidence in policy making is – to coin a phrase – a job for the many, not the few. So, following the latest election, we published a 2 page briefing which we have shared with all MPs, selected Peers and officials. It sets out our report’s recommendations and calls on government to take a lead on using evidence well, and for those in scrutiny roles to consistently challenge poor practice and champion the good use of evidence.

The new Science and Technology Committee Chair in the House of Commons, Norman Lamb, wrote in his candidate statement:

“I have a strong interest in evidence-based policy making. In 2014, I won the Political Studies Association Award for best evidence-based policy making in my role as minister responsible for mental health and social care.” 

I’m delighted the new Science and Technology Committee Chair wears that award with pride. And we’ll be working hard, along with others, over this Parliament to increase the list of potential winners for any future best evidence-based policy making award. There’s a lot at stake.

Take a look at our two-page evidence briefing and our full evidence report.