The Power of Evidence (PoE)
Evidence-informed policy-making is crucial for good governance. Yet, despite the abundance of evidence from research and evaluation available to decision-makers, we know little about the actual influence of evidence on government policies. The ‘Power of Evidence’ (PoE) research programme, directed by Johan Christensen and Valérie Pattyn at the Institute of Public Administration, will investigate to what extent and under what conditions evidence shapes public policies – and what implications this has for our democracies.
- 2022 - 2027
- Valérie Pattyn
- Research Council or Norway (RCN)
Evidence-informed policy making is increasingly seen as a critical part of good governance. Scientific evidence is touted for its potential to support governments in their quest for more effective and efficient policies, and can help deal with the complexities of current societal challenges. Governments worldwide have invested heavily in the establishment of evidence arrangements such as evaluation systems or expert advice bodies to guarantee a continuous supply of knowledge and expertise that can feed into the policy making process. Policy makers never had as great access to scientific evidence as today.
Yet, despite decades of research on evidence use, the influence of evidence in public policy making remains largely unknown. We have little systematic knowledge about the extent to which expert advice and evidence from policy evaluations actually shapes public policies, and how this varies across countries and policy areas. And we know little about the conditions under which the supply of evidence leads to policy reform. The new research programme ‘Power of Evidence’, led by Johan Christensen and Valérie Pattyn at the Institute of Public Administration, will investigate these questions.
Whether evidence influences policies matters for our democracies. On the one hand, if policy-makers ignore the wealth of available evidence, it can have negative consequences for the quality of public policies and raises questions about the value added of public investments in evaluations and research. On the other hand, critics worry that an over-reliance on evidence will crowd out other legitimate interests in a democracy and expose us to the biases of unaccountable experts, leading to citizen disaffection and populist backlash.
Against this backdrop, the research programme examines when and how evidence influences government decision-making, and assesses the normative significance of the influence of scientific evidence for democracy. The program draws of a range of innovative qualitative and quantitative methods to provide a robust and comprehensive evidence base about and for evidence-informed policy. Ultimately, the insights generated by the programme can help improve the design of evidence arrangements in a democracy and make sure that public investments in the provision of evidence are spent in an optimal way.
The programme consists of two interrelated projects. The project ‘Policy evaluations evaluated. When do they prompt an overhaul of policies?, which is conducted by Valérie Pattyn and funded by an NWO Veni grant (2022-2026); and the project ‘INFLUEX: Influence of experts on public policy’, which is co-directed by Johan Christensen and funded by a Norwegian Research Council Ground-breaking Research Grant (2023-2027).
The project ‘Policy evaluations evaluated. When do they prompt an overhaul of policies?, which is conducted by Valérie Pattyn and funded by an NWO Veni grant (2022-2026) aims to systematically measure, explain and understand the influence of policy evaluations in settings with different levels and modalities of evaluation institutionalization. In light of increasing skepticism about the relevance of the evaluation enterprise, the project unravels under which conditions and through what key mechanisms evaluations lead to fundamental policy changes. The project relies on a multimethod design, combining methods such as Qualitative Comparative Analysis and process tracing.
The project ‘INFLUEX: Influence of experts on public policy’, which is co-directed by Johan Christensen and funded by a Norwegian Research Council Ground-breaking Research Grant (2023-2027) examines the influence of experts and expert knowledge in contemporary policy-making. The project seeks to conceptualize, measure and explain the power and influence of expert actors such as expert advisory bodies and expert bureaucracies at the national and international level. To identify expert influence, the project draws on new methodological approaches such as citation analysis and ‘plagiarism’ analysis. It also tackles the normative questions of how much influence experts ought to have in a democracy.
Bundi, P., Pattyn, V. (2022) Trust, but Verify? Understanding Citizen Attitudes Towards Evidence-Informed Policy Making. Public Administration (early view).
Blum, S. and Pattyn V. (2022). How are evidence and policy conceptualised, and how do they connect? A qualitative systematic review of public policy literature. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice (early view).
Christensen, J. (2021). Expert knowledge and policymaking: a multi-disciplinary research agenda, Policy & Politics 49:3, 455-471.
Christensen, J. (2022). Studying expert influence: a methodological agenda, West European Politics, 46(3), 600-613.
Christensen, J. (2023). When bureaucratic expertise comes under attack, Public Administration (early view).
Christensen, J., Holst, C. & Molander, A. (2022). Expertise, Policy-Making and Democracy, Abingdon: Routledge.
Mavrot C., Pattyn V. (2022). “The Politics of Evaluation”, in Ladner A., Sager F. (Eds.). Handbook on the Politics of Public Administration (pp. 243-254), Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Pattyn, V., Bouterse, M. (2020). Explaining use and non-use of policy evaluations in a mature evaluation setting. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 7, 85.