Blog: 'Why Evidence Matters'

Young Australian Aboriginal Boys Having Fun Playing on a Laptop Computer

Robyn Mildon has made the case for why "Evidence matters" on the Analysis & Policy Observatory (APO) blog this week, and invited policymakers and practitioners, who are increasingly adopting evidence-informed practices and implementation science to ensure their work has impact, to come along to #EIS2021to fine tune their work and understanding, and learn lessons from the policy evidence nexus around the globe. Getting good evidence into policy is a key theme this year and many of the keynotes and panels are offering policymakers the opportunity to learn how technical approaches to preparing evidence for decision-making can ensure rigour, relevance and legitimacy.

This piece was first published on the Analysis and Policy Observatory blog in March 2021.

Evidence Matters

The know-do gap

The last few decades have seen a growing global interest in methods that enhance and facilitate the uptake of research findings into policy and practice in social service settings. This movement has sought to draw attention to the considerable ‘know-do’ gap – the gap between what research shows is effective and what happens on the ground. In the health sector alone, classic studies indicate it can take 17–20 years to get clinical innovations into practice.

The consequences of implementing policy and programs uninformed by evidence are considerable. A Chalmers and Glasziou study estimated that for various reasons 80% of the funds allocated to medical research do not make a public health impact. If we extrapolate from this across the many sectors servicing our global and local communities, the extent of unrealised potential for positive change becomes apparent. Limited resources are wasted and society’s return on investment is diminished when programs and policies aren’t based on what works and fail those whose lives they are designed to improve.

The case for evidence-informed policy and practice

Good evidence then, needs to be put into practice to make a difference, and in doing so turns ambition into action. It is access to high quality research and science that enables institutions — and the policymakers and practitioners who work in them — to make smart, data-driven decisions and investments that, if properly implemented, can improve lives more quickly and for less money.

In this context, evidence-informed policy and practice also has an ethical dimension. As Ruth Levine has written, the practices and tools of evidence-informed policymaking are not separate to a moral public policy but are essential to it. At its heart, as Levine has argued, evidence-informed decision-making serves the aspirations of truth, progress, equality and justice, via an equitable allocation of a society’s resources.

Effective implementation: the other half of the equation

An intervention or evidence-informed practice that is poorly implemented – or not implemented at all – will not produce benefits. The relatively new field of implementation science has developed to enhance the uptake of evidence-informed practices into routine practice by practitioners and policymakers, and this approach is now becoming more widespread.

Showcasing the sector

The Evidence and Implementation Summit is a bi-annual conference co-hosted by Centre for Evidence and Implementation and Monash University that focuses on these approaches.

This year the online program will broadcast live for two days over 30-31 March (note the whole Summit will be recorded so that even if you cannot attend you will have access to the content for 12 months post event). The program includes a long list of evidence and implementation science luminaries who will also be accessible via discussion groups and networking on the Summit platform. I strongly suggest you review the full program to see the impressive array of content on offer.

Policymakers and practitioners are increasingly adopting evidence-informed practices and implementation science to ensure their work has impact. Getting good evidence into policy is a key theme at #EIS2021 this year. Many of the keynotes and panels are offering policy makers the opportunity to learn how technical approaches to preparing evidence for decision-making can ensure rigour, relevance and legitimacy.

Some of the policy-focused presentations and discussions at #EIS2021:

Professor Ruth Stewart, Director of the Africa Centre for Evidence situated at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, will present on How policy, implementation, evidence, and politics come together to improve the future of millions of South Africans. Dr Stewart will discuss the implementation of EIDM (evidence-informed decision-making) as a deliberative intervention embedded within government through relationships.

Professor John Thwaites, ex deputy Premier of Victoria, Professorial Fellow at Monash University and Chair of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and ClimateWorks Australia will present on Speaking truth to power – but are they listening? drawing on case studies from his experience in government.

The Evidence and Policy session will focus on answering two key questions with new thinking:  What’s needed to increase the take-up of evidence in policymaking? And how can policy be formulated and implemented to support and stimulate evidence take-up in practice? Three panellists, from academia, government and a leading What Works Centre, will speak from an unusual set of boundary-spanning roles that give them special insight into the evidence-policy nexus.

The Politics of Evidence Based Policy session will examine the relationship between politics and policy, focusing specifically on the role of evidence across contexts. Panellists will explore the potential for the politicisation of evidence used in policy design.

We hope you will consider taking advantage of the learning and networking opportunities available just a few weeks away at #EIS2021, and we look forward to once again delivering the quality and breadth for which the event has become known.