The subject of monitoring and evaluation is central to any effort to attempt to improve the connections between policy and research (or politics and ideas). Funders, particularly those focused on funding research, are keen to know if and how the research they funded influenced policy.
In recent years the emphasis has been on finding measurable indicators that ‘demonstrate’ and ‘quantify’ the contribution of a piece of research on a policy change. Methods and tools like Outcome Mapping, Most Significant Change, Network Analysis, Returns on Investment, etc. are being used across the world. Unfortunately, this demand for certainty comes from outside the social sciences and is ill fitted for the world of politics. Still, to challenges remain:
- In most cases, policy decisions are the responsibility of one or more policymakers; the advice and inspiration they may receive from others is, at most, a supporting factor. It is they alone who are responsible for the choices that we understand as policy.
- Even if it were possible to show that a particular piece of research or idea did in fact make its way into a policy (word for word) this would not mean that the path it followed could be followed again; in other words, a successful influencing strategy may work only once.
More importantly, these concerns do not address another important aspect of the debate on Politics and Ideas. What most funders want to do is improve the quality of policymaking. They assume that better policy making could lead to better policy outcomes. This is a good assumption.
But they assume that what policymaking needs to be better is more evidence. Philosophers like Michael Sandel would disagree (at least partially). He would argue that what policymaking needs to be better is to allow morals to play a more open and nuanced role.
Still, if we had both, Politics and Ideas, in policymaking, what we all want is better policies: better informed, more balanced to technocratic and moral considerations, etc. Therefore focusing on whether a particular research influenced policy is a mistake. The focus ought to be the quality of policymaking. It is, after all, not the same to talk about evidence based/informed policy and ‘my evidence’ influencing policy. The former accepts that other evidence and ideas are available and equally valid.
The Topic Guide on Monitoring and Evaluation addresses some of these concerns. Please let us know if you have any more.