23 SES 13 A, Evidence-based Policies in Education
Calls for the use of evidence in education policy have become increasingly widespread nationally and internationally. Despite this, there have been relatively few in-depth studies of how, when and under what conditions policy-makers use research evidence. This paper will share findings emerging from a one-year study with the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) in Australia on their use of evidence in policy development. Drawing on in-depth interviews and documentary analysis with policy writers, advisors and researchers who worked on two specific policies, it sheds new light on how evidence is (and is not) used and the complexities that are involved in the process. It makes links to wider debates around the ‘political uses’ of expert knowledge (Boswell, 2009).
Specifically, this paper will:
- provide in-depth examples of how different kinds of evidence were used in the development of two specific recent policies in Victoria (What types of evidence have been used, in what ways and for what purposes?)
- share policy-makers’ reflections on the complexities involved in identifying, evaluating and using evidence with these policies (What challenges are involved in using evidence, and what helps and/or hinders evidence use to happen?)
- explore theoretical connections and points of difference between this work and wider debates around the ‘political uses’ of expert knowledge (Boswell, 2009) and the role of ‘policy narratives’ (Boswell et al., 2011).
A number of theoretical influences informed this project. Firstly, an important conceptual starting point has been a desire to study ‘the use of evidence’ as opposed to ‘the impact of research’. This picks up on a distinction highlighted by Weiss in the late 1970s, who noted that social scientists tend to ask ‘how can we increase the use of research in decision making?’ Weiss argued that it would be preferable to study ‘how can we make wiser decisions, and to what extent, in what ways, and under what conditions, can social research help’ (Weiss, 1978, p. 78).
Secondly, the work reported in this paper has been influenced by studies that have used in-depth empirical exploration to develop theoretical models of policy enactment and evidence use. The work of Ball, Maguire, and Brainet (2012) is informative in its rich conception of policy ‘enactment’ as opposed to ‘implementation’, which recognizes ‘the diverse and complex ways in which sets of education policies are made sense of, mediated and struggled over, and sometimes ignored’ (p. 3). Our work seeks to bring a similar breadth of perspective to the study by exploring how policy-makers ‘do’ evidence. Similarly, there are connections with the way Earl and Timperley (2009) have studied evidence use in educational practice – in particular, their focus on the detail of ‘how educators at all levels actually use evidence in their thinking and their decision-making’ and their development of a ‘theoretical model that describes the qualities of productive evidence-informed conversations’ (p. 2).
Thirdly, the pilot study takes note of relevant theoretical and empirical insights emerging from wider evidence-use literature. In particular: (i) typologies of research use that distinguish between ‘instrumental’ research (providing answers), ‘conceptual’ research (raising questions) and ‘strategic’ research (as ammunition) uses (Estabrooks, 2001); (ii) work on the political uses of expert knowledge that flag up the importance of knowledge as ‘a source of legitimation’ for policy organisations and as ‘a source of substantiation’ of policy preferences (Boswell, 2009, p. 87); (iii) characterisations of evidence use that emphasise its ‘interactive, iterative and contextual’ nature (Davies, Nutley & Walter, 2008, p. 190); and (iv) the ‘social ecology’ of policy that highlights ‘how government operates, the decision-making processes and the central players who influence what occurs’ (Tseng, 2012, p. 8).
Ball, S. (1985) Participant Observation with Pupils. In: R.G. Burgess (Ed.), Strategies of Educational Research. Lewes: Falmer Press. Ball, S., Maguire, M. and Brain, A. (2012) How Schools Do Policy. London: Routledge. Boswell, C. (2009) The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Boswell, C., Geddes, A. and Scholten, P. (2011) ‘The Role of Narratives in Migration Policy-Making: A Research Framework’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations 13: 1-11. Calderhead, J. (1981) ‘Stimulated Recall: A Method for Research on Teaching’, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 51, 211-217. Davies, H., Nutley, S. and Walter, I. (2008) ‘Why “knowledge transfer” is misconceived for applied social research’, Journal of Health Services Research Policy 13(3): 188-190. DEECD (2012) Towards Victoria as a Learning Community. Melbourne: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. DEECD (2013) Professional Practice and Performance for Improved Learning: Overview. Melbourne: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Earl, L. M. and Timperley, H. (2009) ‘Understanding How Evidence and Learning Conversations Work’, In: Earl, L. M. and Timperley, H. (Eds) Professional Learning Conversations. Dordecht: Springer. Edwards, M. & Evans, M. (2011) Getting Evidence into Policy-making. ANZSIG Insight Report. Canberra: ANZSOG. Estabrooks, C.A. (2001). ‘Research utilization and qualitative research.’ In: Morse, J.M., Swanson, J.M. and Kuzel, A.J. (Eds) The Nature of Qualitative Evidence. London: Sage. Finniganm K.S. and Daly, A.J. (2014) ‘Conclusion: Using Research Evidence from the Schoolhouse Door to Capitol Hill’, In: Finnigan, K.S. and Daly, A. J. (Eds.) Using Research Evidence in Education. Dordecht: Springer. Figgis, J., Zubrick, A., Butorac, A., and Alderson, A. (2000). ‘Backtracking practice and policies to research.’ In: DETYA The Impact of Educational Research. Canberra: DETYA. Head, B., Boreham, P. and Cherney, A. (2013) Public Sector Survey on Evidence based policy: Results for the DEECD. Brisbane: ISSR/UQ. Nutley, S., Walter, I. and Davies, H.T.O. (2007) Using Evidence: How research can inform public services. Bristol: Policy Press. OECD (2007) Evidence and Policy in Education: Linking research and policy. Paris: OECD. Tseng, V. (2012) ‘The uses of research in policy and practice’, Sharing Child and Youth Development Knowledge 26, 2, 1-23. Walford, G. (Ed.) (1994) Researching the Powerful in Education. London: Routledge. Weiss, C.H. (1978) ‘Improving the linkage between social research and public policy’ In: L.E. Lynn (Ed.) Knowledge and Policy: The Uncertain Connection. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
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