Posts Tagged 'Evidence and Policy'

We need more experts participating in political debates: Continuing the legacy of Professor Carol Weiss

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Iris Stucki, the winner of the 2017 Carol Weiss Prize for outstanding early career research, discusses her winning article, ‘The use of evidence in public debates in the media: the case of Swiss direct-democratic campaigns in the health policy sector’. The article is published in Evidence & Policy and is free to access for 3 months.

Arguments referring to evidence are rare in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns. I took 5030 media items and analysed how many of them made a reference to evidence. At less than 7% the result is sobering, and experts, the actors that make most use of evidence in their arguments, are also scarce.

 

Why is this result of deep concern?

The success of democracy depends on an informed public. To be able to make good decisions, voters need to receive information about evidence, in particular evaluation studies, showing whether a policy works or not. Of particular importance for Swiss voters in deciding about a policy is the campaign coverage by the mass media. Here, debates between actors with different interests take place and arguments from both proponents and opponents are conveyed. And here, political arguments could be substantiated by evidence.

“The success of democracy depends on an informed public.”

 

Political use of evidence

Political use of evidence takes place when evidence is used to legitimise a predetermined position. Political use of evidence has had negative connotations for a long time, because, research has often been intended for use in improving and adapting political measures, rather than being used in political arguments. However, the positive view of the political use of evidence recognises that evidence is open to interpretation. Against this background, the use of evaluation studies and other research to support political arguments is nothing to condemn. On the contrary, presenting different evidence-based perspectives enriches political debate. As early as 1979, Carol Weiss stated that research, to the extent that it supports the position of one group, “gives the advocates of that position confidence, reduces their uncertainties, and provides them an edge in the continuing debate”.

My analysis of the use of evidence in direct-democratic campaigns shows that evidence is almost exclusively used in a political way. The good news is that the Swiss media display proponents and opponents in their political use of evidence in a balanced way, that is, pro and con arguments are conveyed in a similar proportion. The bad news is that not all of the actors are given equal coverage. Journalists and politicians dominate the discourse, while experts, the actors most likely to ground their arguments in evidence, appear most rarely. One way to improve this situation would be for the media to integrate experts to a greater extent in their reporting. The simple solution, a fruitful collaboration between journalists and experts seems to be complicated in reality.

 

Knowledge-based journalism

In an ideal world of knowledge-based journalism, journalists serve as explainers of science and facilitators of evidence-based discussions while experts recognise that they have a role to play in educating the public in policy debates. However, such collaboration seems to be tough for experts especially, as they have to be convinced that they want to participate, to take position and to eventually let go of their knowledge. This is best illustrated by a statement in a discussion forum on the question why there are so few experts in political debates. One discussant said that experts have to abandon a part of their identity as scientists when intervening in the world of politics, and have to show idealist ambitions to engage in political debates.

“Ultimately, both journalists and experts are in pursuit of the same goal: an enlightened public to avoid the emergence of a post-truth democracy.”

But perhaps this is the path to take. Ultimately, both journalists and experts are in pursuit of the same goal: an enlightened public to avoid the emergence of a post-truth democracy. Thus, I close with a call for more experts to participate in political communication. I draw, again, on Carol Weiss, who recognized 20 years ago, that experts have the capacity and the responsibility to actively present evidence in the public arena and explain its scope and relevance to citizens. I am convinced that when experts who are involved in the production of evidence collaborate with journalists and publicly share analysis that is relevant in the political world, they both contribute to making democracy more evidence-prone, and citizens more enlightened.

 

Iris Stucki is deputy head of the Federal Office for the Equality of People with Disabilities in Switzerland. She received her PhD in Public Administration in 2016 for her dissertation on the use of evidence in direct democracy. Her research interests cover evidence-based policy making and voting behaviour.

Her article ‘The use of evidence in public debates in the media: the case of Swiss direct-democratic campaigns in the health policy sector’, published in Evidence & Policy is free to access for 3 months.

 

Happy 10th birthday Evidence & Policy journal!

Our Evidence and Policy journal is celebrating ten years. To mark the occasion we asked Evidence & Policy journal editor Annette Boaz to trace the history of the journal’s development and give us a sneak preview of the birthday based activities coming up…

Annette Boaz, Evidence & Policy journal editor

Annette Boaz, Evidence & Policy journal editor

It seems like only yesterday that we sat around a table in the ESRC Centre for Evidence Based Policy at Queen Mary University discussing with Ali Shaw from Policy Press how great it would be if there was a home for those who wanted to write and read about the relationship between evidence, policy and practice.

Ali and Ken Young, the Centre Director, share a gift for making things happen and before I knew it we were looking at cover designs and receiving copy for a brand new journal!

From the start the aim was to be more than an academic journal. The practice section was designed to provide space for those engaged in the practice of promoting research use. Whereas the research and debate sections immediately attracted attention, it took a while to get the practice section going but it has definitely proved worth the effort. The popular Sources and Resources section has always offered an open access digest of new papers, books and reports and includes short articles on relevant conferences, events and initiatives.

Stellar achievements

The first few years of a journal are hard work. I remember standing on a platform at a Scandinavian conference with the Editor of the Psychological Bulletin. He listed the stellar achievements of his journal and the holy grail that was getting something published in one of its volumes! I remember thinking we had all that distance to travel as well as our additional ambitions to reach out to policy and practice audiences and contributors.

That we achieved an ISI impact rating at our first application was therefore a great moment; we are however just as proud of the thriving practice section. The current impact factor is 1.222 and it is ranked 18 out of 92 journals in Social Sciences interdisciplinary.

What makes a journal work is the people who engage with it:, the contributors, the reviewers, the editorial team and the advisory board. As the contributions have increased, David Gough and I have been very grateful to our Associate Editors who continue to offer the diverse expertise needed to handle the multi-disciplinary, contributions that address the challenges of evidence and policy in different countries and contexts.

“What makes a journal work is the people who engage with it…”

Holding it all together is our Editorial Officer, Sylvia Potter. Last, but definitely not least, from the start we have had fantastic support from Sandra Nutley who will sadly be stepping down this year. I would like to thank her for her contribution – as critical to the first ten years of the journal as to the field more widely.

We have lots of plans to celebrate our tenth birthday starting with getting you to help us put together a top ten highlights from Evidence & Policy that will be open access for the year. Please do vote for your favourite papers via Twitter (@EvidencePolicy) or via e-mail (pp-marketing@bristol.ac.uk).

With the support of the family of Carol Weiss, who sadly died, we plan to launch a new prize to be awarded for the best paper by an early career researcher. We also want to look forward and will bring together leading individuals in the field to help us take the journal forward into the next decade. And, of course, we will be hosting celebratory drinks at at least one conference this year, so please join us if you see the invitation in a conference programme!

Do keep an eye out via email and twitter for all our birthday celebration activities and thank you for all your support and involvement in our first decade….onwards!

EvP 2013 [FC]More information on the Evidence and Policy Journal is available on our website here. You can read the journal, including the latest ‘most read’ articles, subscribe or make a submission to the journal through the website or sign up for our quarterly newsletter here.


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