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Adversarial Policies and Evidence Utilization: Modeling the Changing Evidence and Policy Connection

GPS, Vol. 6 No. 2, (2010)

That policy should be based on some kind of evidence, research or expertise has for a long-time seen to be common-sense in most parts of the „West‟. Starting in the UK, in recent years this has come to fruition under the banner of evidence-based policy-making and the quest for establishing „what works‟ in public service delivery. Yet at almost the same time that evidence gained currency in the policy process, significant criticisms of the endeavor emerged, challenging the whole movement. Somewhat paradoxically, in recent years the evidence movement is branching out from the „what works‟ agenda and is a key component of policy debate in many areas. This paper charts the shift in this paradigm to consider the role of evidence in adversarial policy domains. Adversarial policies present a distinct challenge for the evidence movement. Because of their sensitive nature, debates over the evidence base in such domains are usually partisan and misinformed. Adversarial policy formulation is typically seen as being evidence free because political imperatives override the evidence-base. By reviewing the recent literature in one notorious adversarial domain—UK drug policy—and the literature on research utilization, the paper argues that the reality is much more complex and that in most cases policy is usually a blend of evidence-based policy and policy-based evidence. Explaining this is a difficult task. Existing models of research utilization have been employed to this effect, but tend to offer only limited descriptions of the evidence and policy connection. This paper puts forward a newer processual model which it claims can account for the many subtleties involved in explaining the evidence and policy connection in adversarial domains.

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