Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


9 November 2016

What Happened To Evidence-Based Policy Making? The Case of UK Drugs Policy

Presented By Mark Monaghan
  • 1-2 pm (part of the CRCC Seminar Series)
  • J202 (Edward Herbert Building)

About this event

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum and the emerging (renewed) suspicion of ‘experts’ it created, it is difficult to imagine that for a while the concept of ‘evidence-based policy’ was a la mode. In the UK, under the New Labour Government (1997-2010), evidence-based policy was encapsulated by the stated desire for policy making not to be driven by outdated ideologies, but by the pragmatic search for ‘what works’.

The arbiter of whether a programme or policy was deemed to ‘work’ was if ex post or ex ante tests using Randomised Controlled Trial designs or rigorous ‘systematic reviews’ of the evidence deemed it so. Almost from the outset, this view of policy making attracted criticism as being overtly positivist and instrumentally rational. Not only that, it became increasingly apparent that the pragmatic search for ‘what works’ was not extended to all policy domains especially those characterised by non-trivial degrees of politicisation.

These are policy areas where there is intense media scrutiny of decision-making, a prolonged sense of crisis and where powerful constituencies need to be appeased. In such circumstances, policy-based evidence was seen to be a more accurate reflection of the evidence and policy connection. This paper considers the fortunes of evidence-based policy in one such area; the ‘critical case’ of UK illicit drugs policy. It considers the role of evidence in decisions to reschedule cannabis in the last decade, but also considers, drawing on various examples, the current politics of evidence-based policy making and the strategies that evidence-producers may adopt to get their voices heard in policy when the policy context is perhaps not as amenable to research as it was back in the 1990s.

This event is part of the CRCC Seminar Series