Integrating evidence and public engagement in policy work: an empirical examination of three UK policy organisations

Hill O'Connor, C. , Smith, K. and Stewart, E. (2023) Integrating evidence and public engagement in policy work: an empirical examination of three UK policy organisations. Policy and Politics, 51(2), pp. 271-294. (doi: 10.1332/030557321X16698031794569)

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Alongside efforts to improve evidence use in policy, grassroots demands and governance-driven democratisation are informing an ever-increasing range of public engagement processes in UK policy. This article explores how these simultaneous efforts intersect within three policy organisations working at different levels of UK policy: local (Sheffield City Council), regional (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) and national (devolved) (Scottish Government). Employing documentary analysis and 51 interviews with individuals working in these organisations, we argue that there are organisational similarities in approaches to evidence and engagement, including: conceiving of both ‘data’ (statistics tracked by internal analysts) and ‘evidence’ (external analysis) in primarily quantified terms; and a tendency to limit the authority of publics to advising and consulting on predefined issues. Yet, we also find growing interest in more in-depth understandings of publics (for example, via ‘lived experiences’) but uncertainty about how to use these qualitative insights in settings that have institutionalised quantitative approaches to evidence. We identify four distinct responses: (1) prioritising public engagement; (2) strategically using public engagement and evidence to support policy proposals; (3) prioritising quantified evidence and data; and (4) attempting to integrate these distinct knowledge types. Surprisingly (given the organisational importance afforded to metrics), we categorised most interviewees in Cluster 4. Finally, we explore how interviewees described trying to do this kind of integration work, before reflecting on the promise and limitations of the various mechanisms that interviewees identified.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was supported by the UK Prevention Research Partnership (MR/S037578/2), which is funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, Natural Environment Research Council, Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), The Health Foundation and Wellcome.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hill OConnor, Dr Clementine
Authors: Hill O'Connor, C., Smith, K., and Stewart, E.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Journal Name:Policy and Politics
Publisher:Policy Press
ISSN (Online):1470-8442
Published Online:11 January 2023
Copyright Holders:Copyright © Policy Press 2023
First Published:First published in Policy and Politics 51(2): 271–294
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
313944System-science Informed Public Health and Economic Research for non-communicable Disease Prevention (the SIPHER consortium)Petra MeierMedical Research Council (MRC)MR/S037578/2HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit