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Evidence versus politics

Evidence versus politics: Exploiting research in UK drug policy making?

Mark Monaghan
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  • Book Info
    Evidence versus politics
    Book Description:

    The initial enthusiasm for the evidence-based policy agenda has recently been replaced with increasing scepticism. Critics point out that 'policy-based evidence' characterises the relationship more accurately. Analysing the role and nature of evidence in the context of UK drug policy and drawing on a range of theories of the policy process and research utilisation, this book pursues an alternative route for conceptualising the evidence and policy connection, which moves beyond zero-sum statements of evidence-based policy and policy-based evidence. It will be essential reading for students and researchers in public policy and criminology.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-698-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. List of tables and figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  2. List of abbreviations and key terms
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Towards the end of 2009 a significant schism occurred between the New Labour government and the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Professor David Nutt. The origins of this can be traced back to May 2008 when, against the prevailing advice from the ACMD (ACMD, 2008), the government signalled its intention to reclassify cannabis back to a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1971. Drug classification is a thorny issue. It returned to the media headlines in March 2009 as the Advisory Council considered the legal status of ecstasy. Their report...

  4. TWO The origins and reach of the evidence movement
    (pp. 11-26)

    To fully comprehend the subtleties of evidence-based policy making it is necessary, in the words of Solesbury (2001), to understand from whence it came. It is also important to consider its constituent parts. Later chapters will deal with the concept of ‘policy’ and how this is to be conceptualised in the context of evidence-based policy making. This chapter, however, focuses on the ‘evidence’ aspect. We live in an evidence age. Something of a consensus across various disciplines particularly in the social sciences has arisen over the need to engage with the public or to be more ‘outward facing’. Murji (2010,...

  5. THREE The two communities of evidence and policy, the challenge of politics and the impact of the media
    (pp. 27-42)

    Chapter Two located the origins of evidence-based policy making in a ‘Western’ democratic tradition of policy development. It stressed that the relationship between the two protagonists of the tale (researchers and policy makers) has never been straightforward and is blighted by mutual suspicion. Continuing this story, this chapter initially focuses on some established criticisms of the evidence-based policy-making agenda. The policy process has broadened under the conditions of governance. Leaving aside for the moment the way this happens and the equity of it, decision making under the conditions of evidence-based policy making has become diffuse as evidence is canvassed from...

  6. FOUR Competition, conflict and controversy in the making of UK drug classification policy
    (pp. 43-60)

    Chapter Three focused on the problematic nature of developing evidence-based politics in heavily politicised policy areas like drug policy. One significant aspect of this related to problems of data gathering in such contexts. Quite often, although not solely, this relates to the way the activity, event, behaviour, person, group or policy being researched is stigmatised (Goffman, 1963). As a consequence, the phenomenon is often hidden or the topic is ‘sensitive’ (Lee, 1993). Heavily politicised areas, to recap, are those characterised by the three Cs of competition, conflict and controversy. Here, the political stakes are high and there is intense media...

  7. FIVE Developing tools for exploring ‘evidence’ in politicised policy areas
    (pp. 61-88)

    Chapter Four outlined how the history of UK drug policy is characterised by a continuing power struggle over ownership of the drug problem. The legacy of these debates has been felt in recent developments in UK drug policy making, more specifically issues relating to the legal status of drugs and the evidence used to buttress decisions in this area. It was suggested in Chapter Four that the cannabis reclassification and the interest in drug classification that this engendered represents a useful case study for analysing the relationship between evidence and the political machinery in the policy process. It was stated...

  8. SIX The nature of evidence in a politicised policy area
    (pp. 89-110)

    Previous chapters have contributed towards exploring the way in which in heavily politicised areas the utilisation of evidence is often boiled down to a case of present (evidence-based) or absent (evidence-free). The origins of this lie in entrenched positions adopted by those involved in the policy process and those offering some commentary thereon. This chapter aims to explore how these appreciations occur in more detail and questions whether these are an accurate portrayal of the way that evidence is or is not embraced by decision makers. This involves an ACF-inspired analysis of the way that ‘evidence’ was understood by key...

  9. SEVEN The utilisation of evidence in a politicised policy area
    (pp. 111-128)

    In Chapter Six the episode of cannabis reclassification was used as a case study through which to explore how evidence is not considered homogeneously by those embroiled in the policy process. This has a significant knock-on effect for applications of the label ‘evidence-based policy’ because it can lead to zero-sum understandings of the connection where evidence is frequently deemed to be absent from the process, or conversely, where the policy is considered to be wholly evidence-based. Neither account, it is maintained, is an accurate reflection on the utilisation of evidence. This chapter broadens the substantive focus to consider appreciations of...

  10. EIGHT Conceptualising and modelling evidence use in politicised policy areas
    (pp. 129-152)

    Previous chapters have raised a number of quandaries for the analyst trying to explain the nature of the evidence and policy relationship with particular reference to heavily politicised areas. It has been suggested that particularly in these contexts zero-sum accounts of the evidence and policy relationship are the most frequent default position resorted to by supporters and detractors alike. It was suggested at the end of Chapter Seven that zero-sum views cannot readily account for the subtleties in the evidence and policy connection in politicised areas and, consequently, an alternative view is put forward here. Previous chapters have shown the...

  11. NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 153-160)

    In contemporary society, evidence-based policies have become the benchmark by which most policies are judged. As suggested in Chapter Two, in recent times throughout the UK, the US, Europe and further afield, a range of agencies has been installed with the mission to gather, review, synthesise, interpret and broker evidence in order to better inform public policy. This has ushered in the ‘evidence age’. Mulgan (2005, p 216) suggests that the ‘Western’ world is currently in an era where the demand for knowledge is paramount and where today’s citizens are ‘far more educated, knowledgeable and confident than their predecessors’. This...