Evidence-based policy making

The constitution should enshrine the responsibility of the government to use rigourously established objective evidence in its policy making. 

All too often (all of the time?) policy is based upon ideology, attempting to increase popularity ratings, point scoring against rival parties, or pure self-interest. What the country deserves is policy based on objective evidence, as below:

  • Test the theory as to why the policy will be effective and what the impacts of the policy will be if it is successful.
  • Inclusion of a counterfactual: what would have occurred if the policy had not been implemented.
  • Incorporate some measurement of the impact.
  • Examine both direct and indirect effects that occur because of the policy.
  • Separate the uncertainties and controls for other influences outside of the policy that may have an effect on the outcome.
  • Should be able to be tested and replicated by a third party.

Essentially, it's placing the scientific method at the heart of policy making, which is sensible, since science is plainly and easily the best method humanity has found so far of realising knowledge, and it makes sense to extend that to how we run our civilisations.

Not only that, but governments need to trust their scientific advisors. Ever since Nutt was "expelled" for speaking plainly about the risks of taking ecstasy versus the risks of other obviously more inherently dangerous activities, very few scientists even want to be advisors to the government, since it's clear that if you provide them with evidence they don't like, you could be for the chop.

Check out the brilliant Ben Goldacre speaking about why policy making needs better data: http://www.badscience.net/2015/02/i-did-a-new...ds-better-data/


edited on Feb 17, 2015 by Tom Peach-Geraghty

Christine Farquharson Apr 6, 2015

To start off the phase 2 discussion, here's a brief summary of some of the points raised in the first phase. Please remember to vote ideas and comments up/down to help idea authors take the community's views into account when modifying their proposals!

- TomPeach-Geraghty: We cannot enforce evidence-based policy making, but we should have 'a dedicated, independent, statistics service in government that checks, explains, and corrects government or political party statements about data.' (2 up, 1 down)

- Tom Austin; OBR is good in theory, but rarely influences politicians or the media in an undistorted way. A group of experts is still a group of humans, so judgement remains key. (2 up)

- degauntier: Good idea, but hard to mandate. There is often room for reasonable debate about what the optimal policy is (e.g. economic policy), and sometimes values have to trump evidence (e.g. the abolition of slavery). Trying to mandate evidence-based policy weakens democracy. And is this really a constitutional matter? (2 up, 1 down)

- JimF: Evidence-based policy making is great when it works but probably can't be enforced in a constitution. (3 up)

- Malcolm Ramsay: Making policy based on evidence is an obligation of government but not something that belongs in the constitution. (1 down)

- People expressing support: Tel (3 up), Kristopher Cussans (3 up), IanSmith1 (1 up, 1 down)

Christine Farquharson Apr 17, 2015

With only one day remaining in the refining stage, the facilitators will draft some language for this idea. We'll do everything we can to redraft the original submission in line with your comments and suggestions. If the original poster would like to take over the idea they are more than welcome to at any point. Please do comment to offer suggestions on specific wording and to guide us on which suggestions should take priority (by voting them up/down).

'The government will commit itself to drafting and implementing policy in accordance with the best available evidence. The government will also co-operate fully with a dedicated, independent body or bodies that evaluates policy and releases relevant data to the public.'

With just one day left your comments are particularly important, so make sure you take the chance to comment/vote!

Tom Austin Apr 17, 2015

I think you have done a fair job CF. I guess we'll just have to pin our hopes upon proposed changes to the electoral system to drag Politics down to our level.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 17, 2015

It's fair as far as it goes, but it neglects the principle that governments don't make policy, governing parties do. You cannot compel a party to make policy in a particular manner. 

How about:

In implementing the policy agenda which formed the basis of its election, the Government should have proper regard the best available evidence. Government will also co-operate fully with a dedicated, independent body or bodies that evaluates policy and releases relevant data to the public.

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