Executive Summary

This report analyses the skills and capacities governments need to strengthen evidence-informed policy-making and identifies a range of possible interventions governments can use, based on country good practice. Evidence-informed policy-making can be defined as a process whereby multiple sources of information, including statistics, data and the best available research evidence and evaluations, are consulted before making a decision to plan, implement, and (where relevant) alter public policies and programmes. This report adopts a broad definition of evidence to mean a systematic investigative process to increase or revise current knowledge that encompasses policy evaluation as well as scientific investigations.

Increasing governments’ capacity for an evidence-informed approach to policy-making is a critical part of fostering good public governance to achieve broad societal goals, such as promoting sustainable development or improving well-being. This requires both investing in skills for the use of evidence by policy-makers and senior officials working at the political-administrative interface and taking systemic approaches to building capacity for evidence-informed policy-making in the public sector. The goal is an agile and responsive government that is well equipped to address complex policy challenges.

Despite the potential benefits, an effective connection between the supply and the demand for evidence in the policy-making process often remains elusive. Many governments lack the necessary infrastructure to build such connections. This report looks at how government and the public sector can support senior officials, experts and advisors working at the political/administrative interface and in the policy-making process. It focuses on how to build capacity on the demand side of evidence, as this issue has received less attention to date than the supply of evidence.

The report highlights good practices for enhancing the collective skill set for evidence-informed policy-making. Improving governments’ capacity for an evidence-informed approach will require scaling up the full range of skills for using evidence, as well as engaging with stakeholders and evaluating success.

The report then presents actions, tools and strategies governments can use to build their capacity in this area. These include diagnostic tools to understand the range of existing capacities and ensure that interventions are well matched to governments’ needs. The report also presents initiatives designed to increase policy-makers’ ability to access and obtain evidence. Existing country practices comprise a range of initiatives to improve individual policy-makers’ capacity to use evidence, including both senior civil service leadership programmes and more intensive skills development programmes for the broader civil service. Mentoring is another approach that can be used to support individual capacity building, by giving personalised guidance in relation to ‘real-world’ application of knowledge. Different strategies for promoting interaction and engagement between suppliers of evidence and policy-makers are reviewed. Such interaction can help to build trusted relationships and increase opportunities for research to affect policy-making. These approaches include one-off or periodic forums, various platforms for ongoing interactivity and more intensive partnership projects.

Beyond individual skills, promoting the use of evidence requires more systematic and organisational approaches. The shared goal of interventions to build organisational structures and systems is to embed research use and drive a culture of evidence use within policy organisations. Improving capacity includes strategies such as improving organisational infrastructure, tools, resources and processes; workforce development; and establishing strategic units to support an evidence-informed approach across government.

The recommendations below should assist governments in building their capacity for evidence-informed policy-making:

  • Capacity-building initiatives need to consider the local political and institutional context of research use.

  • This implies acquiring an understanding of the often messy reality of how actual policy-making occurs, and how and when to seize the opportunities for evidence to play a role. This can be particularly important in a context of shifting political priorities where governments can be confronted with citizens’ anger and lack of trust in public institutions.

  • Capacity-building initiatives need to address the full range of skills that influence the use of evidence, including skills for understanding, obtaining, interrogating and assessing, using and applying evidence, as well as engaging with stakeholders and evaluating success.

  • To enable change, organisations first need to gather information on current capacities, the desire for change, and existing barriers and facilitators of evidence use within the system. Based on the analysis of capacity gaps, organisations need to identify the right kind of skills that are needed to then focus the most suitable interventions.

  • Institutions, organisational structures and systems enable the effective use of evidence – without addressing these, initiatives are unlikely to succeed.

  • Building capacity for evidence use requires systemic and institutional approaches. These include strengthening organisational tools, resources and processes, investing in basic infrastructure, including data management systems and knowledge brokers, and establishing strategic units to champion an evidence-based approach. Mandates, legislation and regulation are also important tools to facilitate the use of evidence.

  • Strategic leadership is critical to drive the organisational change necessary for improved evidence-informed policy-making.

  • Embedding evidence-informed approaches in policy-making requires strategic and committed leadership, for example from the centre of government, or from units with a mandate for delivering the programme of government. An evidence-informed approach can also be leveraged through performance-driven approaches to resource allocation, and can rely on high-profile positions with a crosscutting mission across departments.

  • Capacity-building initiatives should embed evaluation from the beginning to inform the implementation process and support continuous learning and improvement.

  • It is important to reduce the knowledge gap to assess what are the most effective initiatives that help to foster evidence use throughout the public sector and find ways to measure impact.

  • Capacity-building initiatives need to be embedded within organisational structures and strategies to enable sustainable and long-term change.

  • Evidence-informed policy-making requires more than short-term and short-lived initiatives. Fully embedding them inside government activity may require stronger regulatory or legislative anchors, as well as structural integration in public sector processes to prevent such initiatives from being “washed out” after an initial period of enthusiasm.

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