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Whatever happened to ‘evidence-based policymaking’?

Former Dean of ANZSOG, Gary Banks, reproduces the text of his 2018 Alf Rattigan Lecture in The Mandarin (30.11.18), arguing that the main obstacle to using evidence in policy development is not so much lack of supply as lack of demand.

‘Ten years ago, while still at the Productivity Commission (and prior to my time with ANZSOG), I was invited by ANZSOG to speak in a Public Lecture series it held jointly with the ANU.  The title of my address was ‘EBPM: What is it? How do we get it?’. The importance of evidence-based approaches to policy had long been recognized by aficionados, but it had become officially embraced some years before by the Blair Government in Britain under the banner ‘what matters is what works’. More recently, our own incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had declared that evidence-based policymaking (EBPM) was ‘at the heart of being a reformist government’.

‘While there was much commendable talk about evidence based policy, there was rather less action in both countries. In Australia there were some promising developments under the fledgling ‘National Reform Agenda’; however other policy initiatives not only lacked evidence, they seemed to lack even proper deliberation. Hence the questions in the title.

‘Other policy observers at the time apparently felt the same, as my presentation attracted a fair bit of interest, including from the press, which naturally depicted it as an ‘attack’ on the government. However, the purpose was not (just) to be critical; but to support the government’s declared aspirations for EBPM by clarifying what it entailed and noting some conditions for it to be put into effect. If anything, however, my contribution may have had the opposite effect, as there has been little mention of EBPM by political leaders ever since!’

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