'Black magic' and 'gold dust': the epistemic and political uses of evidence tools in public health policy making

Ellen Stewart, Katherine E Smith

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    Concerns about the limited influence of research on decision-making have prompted the development of tools intended to mediate evidence for policy audiences. This article focuses on three examples, prominent in public health: impact assessments; systematic reviews; and economic decision-making tools (cost-benefit analysis and scenario modelling). Each has been promoted as a means of synthesising evidence for policymakers but little is known about policy actors’ experiences of them. Employing a literature review and 69 interviews, we offer a critical analysis of their role in policy debates, arguing that their utility lies primarily in their symbolic value as markers of ‘good’ decision-making.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)415-437
    Number of pages23
    JournalEvidence and Policy
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2015


    • impact assessments
    • systematic review
    • cost-benefit analysis (CBA)
    • modelling
    • evidence-based policy (EBP)
    • advocacy
    • decision-making tools
    • public health

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