How do policy-makers use evidence? Findings from a recent study in Victoria

Year: 2016

Author: Rickinson, Mark, de Bruin, Kate, Walsh, Lucas, Kent, Simon, Endekov, Zoran

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Calls for evidence-based policy have become increasingly widespread across many areas of public policy. Within education, there is increasing emphasis on the need for research evidence to be used in the development of educational policy in Australia (e.g. Edwards & Evans, 2011) and internationally (e.g. OECD, 2007). From a research perspective, however, the ways in which education policy-makers interact with and make use of different kinds of evidence in the policy development process are not well understood (Nutley et al., 2007; Finnigan & Daly, 2014; Oliver et al., 2014). This paper will present the findings of a recent study that has explored the use of evidence by policy-makers within the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) (Rickinson et al., forthcoming). Developed as a co-funded, collaborative inquiry between Monash University and DET, this work sought to: explore in detail the nature and dynamics of evidence use and non-use within DET policy processes; contribute to and inform future capacity building efforts around evidence-informed policy making in Victoria and beyond; and trial methods and clarify concepts for a future larger study on the use of evidence in educational policy and practice. This work focused on three specific Victorian education policies and involved in-depth interviews with 25 DET staff who had leading roles in the development of those policies coupled with detailed documentary analysis and (where possible) meeting observation. Drawing on the analysis of these interview, documentary and observational data, this paper will share findings, in-depth examples and emerging insights around: (i) the nature of evidence use in policy (What evidence is used, in what ways and for what purposes?)(ii) the building of capacity for evidence use in policy (What would strengthen/deepen evidence use in the future?). With input from the Monash research team and research partners from DET, the discussion of each of these issues will show how this study’s findings connect with and contribute to wider research on the role of evidence in public policy (e.g. Boswell, 2009; Cairney, 2016; van Toorn & Dowse 2016). Links will also be made with calls for studies that: approach policy-making ‘as a practice’ (Griggs et al., 2011), and seek to understand the role of different types of evidence in the policy process as opposed to simply asking ‘how research evidence can be made more influential’ (Oliver et al., 2014).