“What this kind of dispute points to, is that it isn’t possible simply to say that policy should be evidence-based – research evidence can often come to very different conclusions.” (Ian Greener)
I put my hand up: I have called for “evidence-based policy” as if it were sufficient to contain ideologically driven policy, and in doing so fallen foul of HL Mencken’s maxim:
“To every complex problem there is a simple answer: neat, plausible, and wrong”
My three word answer – evidence-based policy – can be dismissed for a number of reasons, the first being that I haven’t explained what I mean by the term. A second reason is given in the quotation which opens this blog entry. Thirdly there is an unproven assumption that this answer is sufficient to contain ideologically driven policy, which itself begs the questions as to what that is and which ideology/ideologies I wish to contain.
Ian Greener sets about rescuing the answer as follows:
A way out of this is to use evidence in a different way, and try and aim for what we might call ‘argument-based policy’. Argument-based policy would ask researchers and perhaps more importantly, policymakers, not what their evidence is (that comes later), but instead to go through the argument for what they advocate step by step, and only when we they have made that clear should they present the evidence they have for each of those steps.
I would like to extend this, using processes and techniques from best-practise models of governance. Underlying these is a straightforward algorithm:
- Where do we want to be?
- Where are we now?
- How do we get where we want to be?
- How do we know we have arrived?
- Go to 1.
It’s necessary to distinguish policy from what I would call implementation. Policy is proven at Step 1, and implemented by Steps 2-4: but evidence AND argument are used at each of the Steps 1-4.
- This is where policy is tested. In business terms, the vision is proven against the business strategy (argument) and a vital test is that it is justified (evidence – consistent with the strategy and providing benefits)
- The current service is assessed against the output from 1 (evidence) and a gap analysis produced, showing where the current service does not match the required service (argument)
- An implementation plan is drawn up and approved (argument) which must be proven to close the gap from step 2 (evidence) and is then implemented
- To complete each step of the implementation plan, proof must be provided (evidence) that the intended outcome has been achieved (argument)
But this still looks like a neat, plausible, and wrong answer. A supporter of the Health and Social Care Bill might argue that they have done this:
- Been elected on a Manifesto
- Published and then gathered responses to Green paper(s)
- Published a White Paper and gathered responses. Published legislation
- Passed the legislation through Parliament
and I have not eliminated the (wrong) ideology because of the response to Step 1.
Taking the Health and Social Care Bill as the case study, as an opponent of the Bill I would counter:
- No you weren’t
- There might have been argument (or debate), but no-one really tested the evidence
- See 2. above. And anyway, this doesn’t match your gap analysis. This looks like your objectives aren’t what you say they are.
- Having a bunch of compliant Tory and Lib Dem MPs and Peers voting along party lines doesn’t count as a valid metric
In other words, no process works where the people owning and performing it are determined to circumvent it or to be misleading (which the ideological are). It seems our MPs and Peers are in general not fit for purpose.
So to avoid yet another simple, neat, plausible, and wrong answer to the question it is necessary to turn to another best-practise tool of governance: Root Cause Analysis. But before that, thoughts on Top-Down Reorganisations