Strengthening Evidence-Based Policy: Outputs April 2014 – March 2015
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In much writing about development, policy and practice are portrayed as if they are joined at the hip. Policy shapes practice, while learning from practice informs policy processes. In this portrayal, practice is usually understood to refer to development practice, or how development programmes and projects are implemented. There is another important but less commonly invoked aspect of the policy – practice dyad, and this relates to the practices and routines associated with policy processes. These practices and routines vary depending on national or institutional context. One critical aspect of difference is how these practices and routines interface with the shifting sands of knowledge and evidence. It is widely appreciated that politics plays a central role in driving policy. The needs to delineate the new regime from the old, to make a mark, or to lay the foundations for a political legacy, are as much a part of the policy dynamic as the desire to promote good change or do the right thing. And one of the central tensions in this heady mix politics and complex real-world problems is between action and reflection. A major misconception associated with the evidence-based policy movement, particularly as it diffused to more complex social policy arenas like development, was of evidence as a kind of ‘plug and play’ commodity. In this view, research provides evidence of what works, and this evidence can then be easily and beneficially plugged into policy processes. The latest tranche of outputs of the Strengthening Evidence-Based Policy programme, described in this catalogue, challenge this ‘plug and play’ view of evidence-based policy. Specifically they demonstrate that in the complex, dynamic and contested policy areas addressed by the programme – including sexuality, conflict, hunger, the caring economy, green transformation and the changing geo-politics of development – evidence only comes alive and has meaning in the context of context. This is certainly not to dismiss the notion of evidence-based policy. Rather, as amply illustrated by the outputs in this catalogue, the experience of this programme suggests that evidence without reflection can do little to improve the practice of development policy.