If you’re interested in evidence-based policy, read this paper by Ben Goldacre now

by Stephen Tall on March 14, 2013

Last October, I wrote a brief post, So you like evidence-based policy? Here’s a couple of crucial things to remember…:

To me, evidence-based policy is at heart a very liberal process. First, it demands that you measure your intended outcomes against your actual results. That’s a pretty good discipline. Secondly, what is termed ‘evidence’ (ie, real-life situations) will need adapting to local circumstance to be effective — in other words, it requires trust in people to work out how to adapt what’s worked elsewhere to their own context.

Today, Ben ‘Bad Science’ Goldacre published an excellent paper, Building Evidence Into Education (which I’ve Scribd below), which celebrates the opportunity to devolve policy practice to the local level, to wrench away from Whitehall (or the Town Hall) the levers of uninformed policy diktat.

Here’s one passage in particular I’d highlight:

… evidence based practice isn’t about telling teachers what to do: in fact, quite the opposite. This is about empowering teachers, and setting a profession free from governments, ministers and civil servants who are often overly keen on sending out edicts, insisting that their new idea is the best in town. Nobody in government would tell a doctor what to prescribe, but we all expect doctors to be able to make informed decisions about which treatment is best, using the best currently available evidence. I think teachers could one day be in the same position. …

The opportunity to make informed decisions about what works best, using good quality evidence, represents a truer form of professional independence than any senior figure barking out their opinions. A coherent set of systems for evidence based practice listens to people on the front line, to find out where the uncertainties are, and decide which ideas are worth testing. Lastly, crucially, individual judgement isn’t undermined by evidence: if anything, informed judgement is back in the foreground, and hugely improved.

The whole thing deserves reading, especially for its explanation of why randomised control trials (RCTs) are the most rigorous way of testing the impact of policy interventions. So here you go…

PS: here are some other posts I’ve penned about evidence-based policies.

Ben Goldacre: Building Evidence Into Education (March 2013)