Theme 5: Improving policy implementation through evidence use

Billions of rands are spent every year on development policies and programmes, but there is relatively little evidence on the true impact these interventions have on the lives of the poor. To support the transformation agenda in South Africa, policy-makers need evidence so that they can make informed policy choices and improve the implementation of interventions to support those policies. Good quality research can help to illustrate the extent of problems and the underlying causes. This is important in deciding where to focus, as well as which interventions are needed to address these issues. This approach of using scientific research and other evidence to formulate policies is known as evidence-based policy-making and implementation (EBPM&I).

The idea that policy and practice should be underpinned by rigorous evidence is internationally accepted, yet the level of rigour in evaluating ‘what works’ in social policy remains limited. In a time of public service reform and more decentralised decision-making, the need for timely, accessible and reliable evidence is becoming ever more important.

However, rigorous scientific evidence on what programmes or policies work is hard to come by, in part because it is so difficult to attribute changes in people’s lives to a programme, rather than other external factors. This scarcity of rigorous evidence on programme impact, and the technical language in which the little evidence that does exist is presented, makes it inaccessible to many, including policy-makers, leaving them to rely on intuition and anecdotal evidence in deciding which programmes to fund and implement.

With the increasing pressure to develop more effective policies and to direct and manage resources in more focused and efficient ways that result in improved implementation and outcomes, policy-makers need evidence so that they can make informed policy choices and improve the implementation of interventions to support those policies. Such evidence needs to be integrated with policy-makers’ expertise, experience and judgement to ensure its relevance and applicability in specific contexts, and effectively link it to real policy engagement.

EBPM&I is advocated internationally for its potential to contribute to effective policy. It aims to increase the use of scientific research, including research from the social and economic sciences, as a source of evidence for policy-making; asking questions about the nature of the problem under scrutiny, how it has been addressed elsewhere and the cost, benefit and effectiveness of interventions.

The National Development Plan (NDP) has highlighted the need for EBPM&I to improve the effectiveness of government policy; if the best available evidence can be understood and used, new policies and projects will be more effective and have a higher probability of success. But the process of transferring research evidence from the page and incorporating it into a workable policy solution has long been a challenge for researchers and policy-makers. Many factors hinder the process, including ineffective communication among stakeholders, lack of access to research, poor comprehension of how research is relevant to policy-making, lack of skills to interpret and use evidence, lack of relevance of research, political interference, and power and budget struggles. Not surprisingly, a recurring theme in the literature on evidence-based policy and practice is the need for better dialogue, partnerships, and collaboration across sectors.

In order to facilitate a shift whereby the development, dissemination and uptake of policy relevant research becomes a normative practice, the added value that can be derived from data needs to be profiled by the research community, and the technical skills to write policy briefs (carefully structured for policy-makers) need to be accelerated.

The PSPPD is championing EBPM&I by assisting policy-makers and researchers to systematically harness the best available evidence to inform the policy-making process.

What works - Review by DFID

Please see attached the final report the DFID 'What Works review' , and here is the link to interesting related videos.

  What Works Review - Intro Video
  What Works Review - Case Studies
  What Works Review - Full Video



Theme 5: Improving policy implementation through evidence use