Educated Guessing: Getting Researchers and Research Knowledge into Policy Innovation
A version of this paper will be included in Tania Voon, Andrew Mitchell and Jonathan Liberman’s (Editors), Regulating Tobacco, Alcohol and Unhealthy Foods: The Legal Issues (Routledge, 2014).
38 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2014 Last revised: 18 Apr 2014
Date Written: March 18, 2014
The translation of research evidence into information that lawmakers will use is a high public health priority. Research focused on evidence translation, and a growing set of credible synthesis tools, aim to promote evidence-based (or at least evidence-informed) public policies. For all the value of these efforts, a practical paradox confronts exponents of evidence-based public health law: if a legal intervention is truly innovative, there will not yet be direct evidence of its impact. Yet direct evidence from policy evaluations hardly exhausts the supply of research knowledge relevant to a policy decision, even under conditions of novelty and uncertainty. In this paper, we discuss how evidence about the problem lawmakers are addressing, combined with widely-used analytic tools and a greater appreciation of the mechanisms of legal effect, can bring existing evidence into the crafting of even very innovative legal interventions for newly perceived problems. Our approach is a mix of the descriptive and the prescriptive. While scientific and critical in spirit, the reasoning process we describe is substantially intuitive and heuristic in practice, and reflects what law makers and advocates do every day. Our prescription consists in making the tacit explicit, and the spontaneous systematic. The implications of our inquiry are modest but useful. We highlight the fact that evidence can have a decisive impact in policy, even at the problem-definition stage. We make the less-often-recognized point that mechanisms of legal intervention have an informative evidence base even when specific uses of those mechanisms do not. And we show how simple heuristic diagrams and matrices can help organize this evidence and promote more systematic thinking even in the innovation stage of policy-making. The result is a clearer picture of the role that researchers and research can play in policy innovation, and a set of tools that policy makers can use to innovate better.
Keywords: public health law, public health law research, translation and dissemination, policy innovation
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation