Trials and tribulations: the 'use' (and 'misuse') of evidence in public policy

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    Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are increasingly playing a central role in shaping policy for development. By comparison, social experimentation has not driven the great transformation of welfare within the developed world. This introduces a range of issues for those interested in the nature of research evidence for making policy. In this article we will seek a greater understanding of why the RCT is increasingly seen as the ‘gold standard’ for policy experiments in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), but not in the more advanced liberal democracies, and we will explore the implications of this. One objection to the use of RCTs, however can be cost, but implementing policies and programmes without good evidence or a good understanding of their effectiveness is unlikely to be a good use of resources either. Other issues arise. Trials are often complex to run and ethical concerns often arise in social ‘experiments’ with human subjects. However, rolling out untested policies may also be morally objectionable. This article sheds new light on the relationship between evidence and evaluation in public policy in both the global north and developing south. It also tackles emerging issues concerning the ‘use’ and ‘misuse’ of evidence and evaluation within public policy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)359-381
    Number of pages23
    JournalSocial Policy and Administration
    Issue number4
    Early online date7 Jun 2013
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2013


    • social research
    • evidence-based policy
    • international comparisons
    • impact evaluation


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