Researching the Use of Evidence in Policy Making

What does it mean to be a ‘knowledge broker’? What impact does knowledge brokerage have on government policymaking? Why might evidence use at the local level require different approaches, and how would this be implemented?

Here at the Wales Centre for Public Policy we recognise that the relationship between evidence and policy is complex and is influenced by a range of factors on both the supply and demand side. We are undertaking research to advance understanding of the role which evidence can play in supporting better policymaking. The results will inform our approach to working with policymakers and public service providers and be of interest to other What Works Centres.


Knowledge brokering and knowledge brokering organisations

The prominence of the Evidence Based Policy Making (EBPM) rhetoric since the 1990s has given rise to a proliferation of organisations that aim to bridge the perceived gap between evidence and policymakers. This role has come to be understood as knowledge brokering, and the Wales Centre for Public Policy is a knowledge brokering organisation. Our research analyses how and why these bodies have emerged in different countries, identifies their characteristics, and assesses their impact on policy. We are studying knowledge brokering organisations in Canada, South Africa and other countries, and comparing these to our practice in Wales.


The impact of the Wales Centre for Public Policy on policymaking in Wales

We are interested in understanding our own impact on policymaking and public service delivery in Wales. Existing research on the effectiveness of knowledge brokering is limited. It is often constrained by the short-term nature of most research-policy engagements and the lack of robust measures. We are undertaking an in-depth critical assessment of our approach to working with Welsh Government which aims to generate insight of when, in what ways and under what conditions our knowledge brokerage role has informed policymaking. Our research will be vital to improve our own work and to knowledge brokering practice more widely.


Evidence use at the local level

The Centre is also undertaking research on evidence use in policymaking, service design and implementation at the local level. A range of initiatives have been introduced to increase the use of evidence to inform local policy and enhance frontline public service performance. Our research will provide a detailed assessment of what has been learnt from these models of engagement. We will examine the types of knowledge that matter, what counts as evidence to different actors and organisations (e.g. local authorities) and how this is utilised in decision making and practice.

As well as our research on the use of evidence in policymaking, we also have several projects examining the design and implementation of policies in Wales. A recent study assessed how Welsh councils had responded to austerity. It concluded that Welsh local government is reaching a tipping point in terms of financial challenges. Most efficiency savings have now been made, and anticipated reductions in the range and quality of services in future will directly impact on citizens’ quality of life. The report concluded that there needs to be a debate about the sustainability of Welsh local government and how councils can be supported to be resilient.

Another research project traces the origins and development of a ground-breaking piece of legislation on sustainable development called the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It analyses how the legislation has been interpreted and mobilised at the local level, through Public Service Boards Wellbeing Plans, to address local issues.

We welcome comments and suggestions on our research programme from those who work at the interface of evidence and policy, and have similar questions about how to improve the relationship. We look forward to sharing the findings from these research projects and debating how knowledge broker organisations, such as the Wales Centre for Public Policy, can better support policymaking and public service outcomes. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep informed on our latest research developments.