Working to make government more effective


Show your workings: Assessing how government uses evidence to make policy

This report explores the possibility of developing a rapid assessment tool to rate government departments on their use of evidence in policy decisions

The origins of this piece of work lie in a seemingly simple idea from government National What Works Adviser and former Institute for Government Research Director, Dr David Halpern: to see if it was possible to develop a rapid assessment tool to rate government departments on their use of evidence in policy decisions. The idea was to be able to compare and rank departments – to show which used evidence well and which less well, and in doing so highlight and celebrate good practice while incentivising others to match the standards of the best.

This report:

1. Sets out in detail our attempts to develop a framework for assessing departments’ use of evidence – and why such an apparently easy task proved to be so difficult to put into practice.

2. Explains the approach we ended up testing, namely a focus on evidence transparency as a first step to assessing the quality of evidence.

3. Sets out the framework that emerged from that testing.

4. Makes recommendations for how those responsible both for policy making and for holding policymakers to account should respond to the framework and the issues raised, as well as setting out how we plan to use the framework in benchmarking government performance over the coming year.

The report was produced in partnership with the Alliance for Useful Evidence and Sense About Science. The framework offered in this report, also developed in partnership, is intended to assist those responsible for, or interested in, holding policymakers to account. It is also intended as a resource for policymakers – helping the Civil Service demonstrate the extent to which it is making progress on its commitment in the Civil Service Reform Plan: One Year On to “publish more of the evidence base that supports policy making” and meeting its commitments on transparency in the Open Government Action Plan.  

Update November 2016: Sense about Science has taken the lead in testing and refining this framework, in collaboration with the Institute for Government and the Alliance for Useful Evidence. They have published the results of this testing in Transparency of Evidence: An assessment of government policy proposals, May 2015 to May 2016.  In 2017, the three organisations intend to proceed with a full departmental ranking exercise. 

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