Michael Gove’s decision to overturn internal advice of the School Playing Fields Advisory board has once again brought to light the difficulties politicians can have with advisory boards, writes Jo Casebourne.
Politicians often have to make difficult decisions, weighing up a number of issues and then present this decision to the court of public opinion. It is vitally important that good quality evidence should play a part in this policy-making process, even though the evidence may have to be ignored. The Alliance for Useful Evidence – a partnership between Nesta, the ESRC and the Big Lottery Fund – is campaigning to address this by bringing evidence to the forefront of social policy making.
The current news story that has engulfed the Secretary of State for Education has once again shown that evidence needs to be transparent. At the end of the policy-making process the public should know what evidence was used and why it was used or rejected. There can be many legitimate reasons for either accepting or rejecting the evidence on offer. But, without transparent rationale the process becomes opaque and leads to needless hearsay that are only ever to the detriment of the policy making process.
Our work through the Alliance for Useful Evidence is not to promote any particular method nor to reduce the power of opinion and ideology in the policy-making process, but to be an honest broker to raise the quality of the supply and demand for evidence and to make this process transparent. As we continue our work making sure that evidence is commissioned and carried out in ways that make it more likely to be used and useful, we want to work with all policymakers to make it easier for them to use high quality evidence. This can become a difficult task when the evidence used is either hidden or very difficult to find.
To understand how and why policymakers come to decisions will demystify the policy making process and start to bring greater trust into politics. Moreover, in a time when we need to make sure every pound counts this is something we can no longer afford to ignore.
Dr Jo Casebourne
Jo is the Director of the Public and Social Innovation Team at Nesta.
(The views are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence)