Improving evidence use in policy making
Innovative demand-led knowledge mobilisation has significantly increased evidence used by Ministers and public services.
Government, research councils and other research funders have emphasised the need for academic research to engage with ‘real world’ challenges.
But policy makers are often unaware of relevant research and expertise within universities or do not know how they can access it. Equally, many researchers do not realise the value they could add to policy decisions, or don’t know how to engage effectively with government.
A new approach to knowledge mobilisation
In 2010, Professor Steve Martin analysed the strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches to producing policy-relevant social science research. He concluded that it was vital to involve policy makers so that research is focused on the issues that they are grappling with and available when they need it to inform policy decisions.
Professor Martin built on this research as co-investigator of the Knowledge Navigator programme, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Key recommendations from the project included the need to:
- increase incentives and opportunities for research-policy collaborations
- change the culture in academic and policy communities, and develop more systematic approaches to achieving connectivity between them
- invest in rapid evidence reviews that draw together existing research on issues that are priorities for policy makers
Informing evidence-led policy making in Wales
In 2013, the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) was established to bridge the gap between academia and the Welsh Government by adopting Professor Martin’s recommendations. Four years later, the PPIW’s success led to creation of the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) to extend and expand the work it had undertaken.
Funded by the ESRC and Welsh Government, the WCPP is an active member of the UK’s What Work network. Its staff works closely with ministers and public service leaders to identify evidence needs and then collaborate with leading academics with expertise in those issues. Projects are tailored to policy maker’s needs and the findings are communicated in non-specialist language so they can be rapidly assimilated by busy politicians and officials.
Impact on Welsh Government policy
The way in which the WCPP works closely with policy makers to identify evidence needs and then brokering existing evidence, has improved policy making in Wales. Using existing knowledge, rather than commissioning new research, provides excellent value for money and means that the WCPP can respond rapidly and flexibly to emerging needs.
The WCPP’s work has been highlighted as a world leading example of good practice in evidence-based policy making by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and was selected as a finalist in the ESRC’s prestigious Celebrating Impact Prize.
Welsh Government officials report that it played an integral role in the development of the Welsh Government’s strategy for responding to the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by “providing relevant and timely evidence to identify challenges and priorities as it focuses on recovery”. Its work has also informed key decisions across policy areas including the economy, Brexit, employability, waste recycling, improving children’s social services, and tackling loneliness and social isolation.
- MacKillop, E. , Quarmby, S. and Downe, J. 2020. Does knowledge brokering facilitate evidence-based policy? A review of existing knowledge and an agenda for future research. Policy and Politics 48 (2), pp.335-353. (10.1332/030557319X15740848311069)
- Martin, S. J. 2016. Practical approaches to increasing the utilization of research. Public Administration Review 76 (1), pp.18-19. (10.1111/puar.12509)
- Bristow, D. , Carter, L. and Martin, S. J. 2015. Using evidence to improve policy and practice: the UK What Works Centres. Contemporary Social Science 10 (2), pp.126-137. (10.1080/21582041.2015.1061688)
- Martin, S. J. 2010. Co-production of social research: strategies for engaged scholarship. Public Money and Management 30 (4), pp.211-218. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09540962.2010.492180. (10.1080/09540962.2010.492180)