How to use evidence in policymaking

Inês Prates at apolitical: “…Evidence should feed into policymaking; there is no doubt about that. However, the truth is that using evidence in policy is often a very complex process and the stumbling blocks along the way are numerous.

The world has never had a larger wealth of data and information, and that is a great opportunity to open up public debate and democratise access to knowledge. At the same time, however, we are currently living in a “post-truth” era, where personal beliefs can trump scientific knowledge.

Technology and digital platforms have given room for populists to question well-established facts and evidence, and dangerously spread misinformation, while accusing scientists and policymakers of elitism for their own political gain.

Another challenge is that political interests can strategically manipulate or select (“cherry-pick”) evidence that justifies prearranged positions. A stark example of this is the evidence “cherry-picking” done by climate change sceptics who choose restricted time periods (for example of 8 to 12 years) that may not show a global temperature increase.

In addition, to unlock the benefits of evidence informed policy, we need to bridge the “policy-research gap”. Policymakers are not always aware of the latest evidence on an issue. Very often, critical decisions are made under a lot of pressure and the very nature of democracy makes policy complex and messy, making it hard to systematically integrate evidence into the process.

At the same time, researchers may be oblivious to what the most pressing policy challenges are, or how to communicate actionable insights to a non-expert audience. This constructive guide provides tips on how scientists can handle the most challenging aspects of engaging with policymakers.

Institutions like the European Commission’s in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) sit precisely at the intersection between science and policy. Researchers from the JRC work together with policymakers on several key policy challenges. A nice example is their work on the scarcity of critical raw materials needed for the EU’s energy transition, using a storytelling tool to raise the awareness of non-experts on an extremely complex issue.

Lastly, we cannot forget about the importance of the buy-in from the public. Although policymakers can willingly ignore or manipulate evidence, they have very little incentives to ignore the will of a critical mass. Let us go back to the climate movement; it is hard to dismiss the influence of the youth-led worldwide protests on world leaders and their climate policy efforts.

Using evidence in policymaking is key to solving the world’s most pressing climate and environmental challenges. To do so effectively, we need to connect and establish trust between government, researchers and the public…(More)”.