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Evaluation, Policy Learning and Evidence-Based Policy Making

22 Pages Posted: 5 May 2003  

Ian Sanderson

Leeds Metropolitan University - Policy Research Institute


The increasing emphasis on the need for evidence-based policy indicates the continuing influence of the "modernist" faith in progress informed by reason. Although the rationalist assumptions of evidence-based policy making have been subject to severe challenge from constructivist and post-modernist perspectives, it is argued that the attempt to ground policy making in more reliable knowledge of "what works" retains its relevance and importance. Indeed, its importance is enhanced by the need for effective governance of complex social systems and it is argued that "reflexive social learning" informed by policy and programme evaluation constitutes an increasingly important basis for "interactive governance". The expanded use of piloting of new policies and programmes by the current UK Government is considered to provide limited scope for evaluation to derive reliable evidence of whether policies work. There is a need for greater clarity about the role of evaluation in situations where piloting essentially constitutes "prototyping". More emphasis should be placed on developing a sound evidence base for policy through long-term impact evaluations of policies and programmes. It is argued from a realist position that such evaluation should be theory-based and focused on explaining and understanding how policies achieve their effects using "multi-method" approaches.

Suggested Citation

Sanderson, Ian, Evaluation, Policy Learning and Evidence-Based Policy Making. Public Administration, Vol. 80, No. 1, pp. 1-22, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=312817

Ian Sanderson (Contact Author)

Leeds Metropolitan University - Policy Research Institute ( email )

Leeds, LS1 3HE
United Kingdom

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