FEATURE2 November 2022

A question of evidence: Policy and research

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Covid-19 Features Impact Trends

Evidence-based policymaking has been used across the UK. But how far is it embedded in government and how can it be improved? Liam Kay finds out.

Abstract shapes

At the height of Covid-19, the mantra of ‘follow the science’ became a justification for reams of government policy. It carried anti-Covid-19 policy through lockdowns, social distancing, masks, tiers, travel restrictions and, eventually, to the end of restrictions altogether. Throughout, the pandemic rumbled on.

The question remains: to what extent was there an evidence base behind much of the Covid-19 policy?

And it is a theme throughout government. From education to immigration to transportation, it can be hard to separate the policies that derive from political values and ideology from those that come from an evidence-based approach.

Evidence-based policymaking is broadly the idea that public policies and decisions should be based on or informed by rigorously established, objective evidence. Most UK government departments have a policy formulation framework, which guides civil servants through evidence-based policy development.

The general approach taken by central government in the UK incorporates working out the rationale for research and objectives, appraising and analysing the current situation, deciding on ...