Entitled to Be Heard: Improving Evidence-Based Policy Making through Audience and Public Reason

85 Indiana Law Journal 1315 (2010)

19 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2013

See all articles by Will Rhee

Will Rhee

West Virginia University - College of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2010


This commentary compares two conflicting affirmative action empirical studies to suggest a working model to improve evidence-based policy making in divisive democratic debates. Although Deirdre Bowen and Richard Sander’s studies conflict over their support of or opposition to affirmative action, they agree that the target audience of policies promoting or banning affirmative action is minority students. Correspondingly, affirmative action’s incidental audience is non-minority students denied admission who otherwise would have been admitted.

Amidst the often noisy democratic policy debate, a policy’s audience — the people most affected — surely is entitled to be heard. A policy’s audience answers the question, “Whom precisely are you trying to benefit or burden with this policy?” Although the target audience is the primary population that the policy intends to influence directly, the incidental audience is the population that may face secondary or collateral effects as a result. Although benefits are supposed to be considered positive and desirable by the target audience and are intended to reinforce some socially constructive conduct, burdens are the opposite and may either be intended to discourage some socially unconstructive conduct by the target audience or simply be an unforeseen or unavoidable consequence affecting the incidental audience.

How can policy making be dictated by the best factual evidence and for the maximum benefit of the target audience? Perhaps by requiring policy makers (1) to state publicly the intended and incidental audiences of a particular policy and (2) to scrutinize publicly available empirical evidence about those audiences before and after making policy decisions. By publicly defining their audience, opposing sides set forth their burden of proof in the public debate. In effect, the public articulation of a policy’s target and incidental audiences can implement John Rawls’ desire for public reason. Public reason — what a democracy considers legitimate policy justifications — can entail publicly available empirical evidence that a policy is actually achieving the desired effect upon its publicly announced audiences.

Keywords: overlapping consensus, public reason, John Rawls, audience, affirmative action, Richard Sander, Deirdre Bowen, deliberative democracy

Suggested Citation

Rhee, Will, Entitled to Be Heard: Improving Evidence-Based Policy Making through Audience and Public Reason (October 1, 2010). 85 Indiana Law Journal 1315 (2010), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2317069

Will Rhee (Contact Author)

West Virginia University - College of Law ( email )

101 Law School Drive
Morgantown, WV West Virginia 26506
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics