Policy and Practice for Developmental Leadership

Recommended Reading: Making Sense of 'Evidence': PLAAS Working Paper 21

Andries Du Toit (2012) "Making Sense of 'Evidence': Notes on the Discursive Politics of Research and Pro-Poor Policy Making", PLAAS Working Paper 21.

Debate about the relationship between 'evidence' and 'policy' in the context of the Evidence Based Policy (EBP) discourse is now widespread within both the research and policy communities. But does the EBP discourse and the assumptions it makes about the policy process really help to understand why and when evidence is taken up, how it is used or what part it plays in the wider political processes that drive policy formation and change?

This excellent new paper by Professor Andries du Toit of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS at: http://www.plaas.org.za/), based at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, challenges many of the orthodoxies of the discourse, and makes a significant contribution to the debate, raising some very important questions about the EBP mantra and the relations between research and policy.

The paper looks critically at some of the assumptions underlying 'evidence-based' approaches to poverty reduction impact assessment. It argues that the discourse of Evidence-Based Policy (EBP) offers poor guidance to those who seek to ensure that social policy making is informed by the findings of social science.

EBP discourse relies on a technocratic, linear understanding of the policy making process and on a naïve empiricist understanding of the role of evidence. This renders it unable to engage with the role of the underlying discursive frameworks and paradigms that render evidence meaningful and invest it with consequence: EBP discourse does not help us understand either how policy changes, or what is at stake in dialogue across the 'research-policy divide'.

Rather than simply focusing on evidence, approaches to policy change need to focus on how evidence is used in the politically loaded and ideologically compelling 'policy narratives' that contest rival policy frameworks.

The paper considers an example from the South African context - the shift to the 'two economies' framework and the policy interventions associated with ASGISA - and explores the implications for approaches to research more attuned to the realities of the policymaking process. It concludes with a discussion of the implications for social researchers and policy makers.


Download the paper from the PLAAS website.

Enrique Mendizabal has written an interesting review of the paper, which can be found on his blog 'On Think Tanks'.

PLAAS is organising a conference on this in November in Cape Town. International symposium: The politics of poverty research: Learning from the practice of policy dialogue.