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The Origin and Development of Evidence-Based Policy Making

Updated on September 28, 2021
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Nyamweya is a global researcher with many years of experience on practical research on a diversity of topics

Evidence-based policy making is a set of methods that inform the process of policy instead of focusing to directly affect the policy's ultimate goals (Court, 2005). It recommends a more rigorous, rational, and systematic approach. The EBP pursuit is by the assumption that the decisions of the policy should be informed better by the evidence available and must involve rational analysis. The reason being, policy based on systematic evidence has been seen to generate better results. This approach also tends to incorporate practices that are evidence-based.

The aspect of employing evidence to inform policy is pervasive. In the ages of ancient Greece, Aristotle supported the belief that various types of knowledge should inform the making of rules. This ideally involves a combination of pragmatic knowledge, scientific knowledge, and value-led knowledge. However, the aspect that is new in the rise of emphasis placed on the concept over the last ten years in the United Kingdom that was advocating for the use of evidence-based medicine. EBP has been seen to gain political currency since the year 1997 under the administration of Blair. This designates the government's entry with a modernizing and reforming mandate that was set to conclude the ideologically-driven politics and rather, replacing it with a decision making that is rational.

They decided to make a bold commitment to the use of evidence in the decision making of policy with the White Paper in the year 1999 (Evidence-based policymaking collaborative, 2016). This meant that the government should generate policies that surely deal with issues which tend to be forward-looking as well as shaped by evidence instead of responding to short-term pressures which tackle causes instead of symptoms. Evidence-based policy making is the approach which helps individuals, corporates, and governments make rational decisions regarding programs, policies, and projects by simply putting the best evidence available from research at the center of implementation and policy development.

The discourse of EBP has developed popularity among an array of policy communities, research organizations, in the departments of the government, and think tanks (Cairney, 2016). The two objectives of evidence-based policymaking include; usage of what is already known from evaluation of the program to policy decision making and building more knowledge to inform better decisions about the future. This approach tends to prioritize detailed research findings, analytics, data, and evaluation of innovation above ideology, anecdotes, inertia, and marketing in the status quo.

EBP takes numerous forms; the use of research findings in informing new policies or improving existing program effectiveness, support of data collection and analyzing management and research, development of policies which incentivize the use of evidence, among others (Government of Canada, 2017). Frequently, it has been applied to human and social services programs, but a wide range of varieties of programs of the government could gain from using and building evidence.

The motion towards evidence-based policymaking has been progressing significantly in the past years at the state, federal, and local levels (Caudell-Feagan, November). However, these attempts are still growing, and a lot of actors in the government could reinforce their approaches as far as evidence-based policy is concerned. Some of the public agencies do not have the skills, capacity, or even funding to significantly build and use evidence; others do not have the agency leaders' commitment to incorporate decision-making into evidence rigorously. However, the increasing number of agencies encourages that with the political leaders' support and public servants and creating an impact-focused culture of continuous improvement and learning.

In the era of restrained public resources and severe partisanship, EBP helps in bridging the partisan political division and back debates that are research-based about the results that one wants to attain at what cost and for whom (Parkhurst, 2017). It motivates accountability and transparency by stating the objectives of programs and policies and then independently examining their outcomes to find out if the goals were attained. By focusing on results, a framework that is evidence-based centers policymaking on social interventions significance and effectiveness in resource use, an approach that widely improves the bipartisan agreement chances.

Evidence-based policymaking motivates a virtuous knowledge-building cycle (Hammersley, 2005). By the evaluation of programs and policies and the use of program data, one can learn how well programs work. The information can then be used for the improvement of programs or to cut off continuously wasteful programs and look for better approaches. From that, the learning and improving cycle will continue.

There is this view that approaches of evidence-based policymaking have the will to have a great effect on results in the third world countries, where the use of evidence in practice and policy could significantly assist in reducing poverty and improving the performances of the economy (Rutter, 2012)y. This is because evidence-based policymaking is less established in the third-world countries compared to the first-world countries and often, policies are not based on evidence. Evidence-based policy-making value is highlighted by two cases in the developing nations; one in which evidence changes lives, the other in which the lack of response on evidence-based has initiated the widespread of not only misery but also death.

First, the Tanzanian government executed a health service reform process informed the outcomes of the survey of household diseases; this contributed to more than forty percent decrease in infant mortality rate between the years 2000 to 2003 in two districts. The crisis of HIV/AIDS, on the other hand, has deepened in several countries since governments have been seen to ignore the evidence of the causes of the disease and ways of preventing its spreading. The increase in the use of EBP in the third-world countries, however, comes with its challenges. Social, economic, and political environments have become more difficult, capacity is limited to produce rigorous evidence and formulation of policy. Besides, resources have become scarce.

Why it has become fashionable in recent years

Ongoing fiscal pressures

In the past few years, a lot of governments had to reduce their budgets due to shortfalls of revenue which took place during the Great Recession (International Development Research Centre, 2011). Even though some countries have witnessed rebound in tax revenue, others have continued confronting tight budgets because of lagging finances, an increase of costs in areas like Medicaid, among others. Most of the governments at both local and state levels have been facing long-term fiscal problems like meeting benefits of retirement obligations for civil servants. This has increased policymakers demands for better information on the results that policies deliver for better tools and constituents to identify activities that did not deliver the desired outcomes.

Increasing availability of evidence on what works

Over the past twenty years, an increasing research body has examined the public program effectiveness. Numerous clearinghouses have compiled the details by categorizing and reviewing thousands of research studies to find out promising and effective programs across an array of areas of policy. Consequently, policymakers can access more information about what is effective. Local and state governments can avoid effort duplication and use this evidence to inform their budget and policy decisions.

Federal funding incentives

Increasingly, recipients of the federal grant including localities and states are needed to target federal finances to programs that are evidence-based. Since the year 2009, for instance, the United States Department of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services has directed about five and a half billion dollars to seven initiatives which back proven programs. Even though they represent a limited percentage of the total federal spending, the grants offer incentives for the beneficiaries to execute proven programs. These involve the investment of Innovation Fund that prioritizes the programs of education with potent evidence of efficiency and innovation program evaluation. The Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program that demands grantees to direct seventy-five percent of federal dollars to programs that are evidence-based and to assess the effects on key results; as well as the Workforce Innovation Fund that backs projects which employ data in designing new approaches to improve training and employment outcomes.

Growing interest from state leaders

Policymakers of states use legislation as an accelerator to motivate program investment that has been proved to be promising (International Development Research Centre, 2011). Results First researchers had identified more than one hundred laws of state across forty-two states passed between the year 2004 to the year 2014 which backs the use of practices and programs that are evidence-based. These laws tend to offer incentives for agencies to execute programs that have been proven and help to initiate regular standards of comparing programs. State leaders also use cost-benefit analysis to appraise their spending and policy decisions. A Result First study that happened recently discovered that the number of states that assess the benefits and costs of the policy and program options increased by forty-eight percent between the years 2008 and 2011, and a total of twenty-nine states reported the use of cost-benefit studies to inform decisions regarding budget and policy. Additionally, since the year 2011, sixteen states and four counties in California partnered with the Results First Initiative in applying an innovative, customized cost-benefit approach to budget and policy decision-making.

Impact on policy

Improving the development research uptake into practice and policy is not at all straightforward (Banks, 2010). The processes of policy are not only complex but also non-linear and multi-factorial. What worked in a context might fail to work in another. A blueprint approach is not likely to work. Successful instances involve regular ingredients; a clear focus on present issues on policy, political awareness, and close policymakers engagement, substantial engagement and communication investment and local champion cultivation and seizure of unexpected opportunities.

Research-based evidence contributes to practices and policies which have significant effects on the lives of the people (Court, 2005). An instance is the Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Project (TEHIP), where the outcomes of surveys of on household diseases were employed in informing the health services development that focused on the most regular conditions especially the ones that affect young children and mothers. Due to this, there was a reduction of infant mortality rate by forty-six percent between the years 2000 to 2003 in Tanzania.


Banks, G. (2010, May 29th). Evidence-Based Policy Making: What is It? How Do We Get It? Retrieved from

Cairney, P. (2016, March 10th). The politics of evidence-based policymaking. Retrieved from

Caudell-Feagan, S. K. (November, 2014). Evidence-based policymaking. Retrieved from

Court, S. S. (2005, November). Evidence-Based Policymaking: What is it? How does it work? What relevance for developing countries? Retrieved from

Evidence-based policymaking colaborative. (2016). Principles of Evidence-Based Policymaking. Retrieved from

Government of Canada. (2017, September 29th). The Case for Evidence-Based Policy. Retrieved from

Hammersley, M. (2005). Is the evidence-based practice movement doing more good than harm? Reflections on Iain Chalmers' case for research-based policy making and practice. A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice,, 1 (1).

International Development Research Centre. (2011, January 21st). Impact of research on policy and practice. Retrieved from

Parkhurst, J. (2017). The politics of evidence: from evidence-based policy to the good governance of evidence. Retrieved from



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