New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

Evidence is not enough

Developing evidence is not enough for implementing evidence-based policy development.  How then do we create an environment in which evidence is understood and implemented in policy discussions and development?

In the past year I keep returning to this free online book: What Counts.  It is full of great examples, written by a cross-section of authors on the subject of how data (open, shared, and big) can be used by community organizations and policy makers to drive social change.

One of the most relevant chapters for our work at the Social Policy Research Network is written by Dr. Raphael Bostic, the Judith and John Bedrosian Chair in Governance and the Public Enterprise at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. His chapter titled, “Narrative” and “Vehicle”: Using Evidence to Inform Policy starts with the four key roles of data in decision making:

1) Problem definition: Data can be used to focus attention on the precise problem policymakers are interested in solving;

2) Option-building: Data can be used to identify the set of policy interventions that can have an impact on the problem;

3) Prediction: Data can be used to predict how a particular policy intervention is likely to change conditions on the ground if implemented in a certain context;

4) Evaluation: Data can be analyzed to establish whether a particular policy intervention has helped improve the situation. (Bostic)

At least that’s what the textbook will tell you.

Dr. Bostic argues that “narrative” and “vehicle” play a significant role in creating an evidence-based policy making environment.  A narrative is a simple, personal story, while a vehicle is a conduit for delivering the narrative. Lengthy academic documents are not an effective way of communicating the results of research to community or policymakers:

“Although evidence is the precondition in evidence-based policymaking, two other tools are required: a narrative and a vehicle. Too often, evidence is presented and made available in lengthy academic documents that appeal to only researchers and academics. Policymakers rarely have the training or the time to sift through such documents to fully digest the results. What they need is a narrative, a concise short story that presents the evidence in a way that is memorable and intuitive. The narrative serves as a shorthand distillation and translation of the compiled evidence and becomes the embodiment of the lessons learned and actions to be taken. The most effective narratives will include clear explanations of directly-supporting evidence. But the story leads with the narrative, not the data and evidence.”

Once data, research, and evidence have been packaged into a narrative there remains the issue of making it available to the appropriate audience:

“An appropriate vehicle for delivering the narrative is also essential for the effective implementation of evidence-based policy. We all have read a good book or short story and wondered why it didn’t gain traction. One possibility might be that the author or publisher didn’t promote the work in the most powerful way. The same challenge can arise for evidence and a narrative. It is not enough to publish significant results of studies in academic journals or publications. When the vehicle for the narrative is not on policymakers’ radar, it is hard to inject evidence into policy.”

According to Bostic, along with events that focus attention on policy problems, and an absence of gate-keepers that maintain the status quo, researchers and knowledge brokers need to focus on creating a compelling narrative and vehicle. Failure to do so results in less evidence in policymaking. Our role at the NB Social Policy Research Network is to work with academic researchers and students to translate their research and get it on the radar of the folks who will use it.

One way we are attempting to combinine vehicle and narrative is through our work with the DocTalks Festival and Symposium.

How do you think the Social Policy Research Network could help our members create a compelling narrative and vehicle to drive greater use of evidence in policymaking?

Copyright 2013
A Ginger Design