July 11, 2018

Evidence Week: why reliable evidence matters

Eilidh Morrissey

‍Image via Sense about Science

We’ve been reflecting on the first ever Evidence Week, an initiative led by Sense about Science in collaboration with others to bring together MPs, peers, parliamentary services and people from all walks of life from across the UK to discuss why evidence matters to them.

We heard that evidence matters to the Somerset Beekeepers Association, as it helps them to be prepared and identify the best ways to protect their bees. It matters to the Aberdeen Multicultural Centre, where they use it to help members of their community understand climate change and rally together to address it. To a scout leader, evidence matters as they witness every day how important critical thinking and the ability to judge the quality of different sources of evidence are to young people.  

The hope for Evidence Week is to make the gap between MP’s, the organisations present, and others who champion the use of evidence and data to improve outcomes, narrower. To encourage MP’s to consider the merits of evidence-based policy and legislate on the basis of what works. It sounds simple but we know in reality it’s easier said than done.

‍Image authors own

There certainly is a lot of interest in research, so why is it so hard for some policy makers to use reliable evidence?

“There are systemic and structural problems in translating evidence to parliament.” 

Mary Creagh MP at Evidence Week.

 A common theme ran throughout the week: that a barrier to designing evidence-based policy is the inaccessibility of evidence.

At the Centre we’re aware that policy-makers time is stretched. We also know that evidence can be inaccessible, buried in grey literature, or at times it simply doesn’t exist. It’s also difficult to discern what reliable evidence looks like for those whose time is under so much pressure.

The last day of Evidence Week focused on ‘wicked’ problems, a phrase used by policy-makers to describe complex and unpredictable issues. Homelessness is a classic example of a ‘wicked’ problem, and we welcomed that there was a dedicated panel session focusing on it that day. Leading experts in the field discussed what we know about the main challenges and solutions on homelessness in the UK today. 

We know that to reach our goal of any experience of homelessness, when unavoidable, being brief, rare, and non-recurring, we must make the evidence actionable and accessible. That’s why we are on a mission to put reliable evidence at the fingertips of those working to end homelessness,- our evidence tools, inspired by tools produced by what works groups across the globe, do just that. The tools are groundbreaking in the homelessness field and will grow over time; as the evidence base grows so will their usefulness.

“If you are passionate about making a difference to mankind, you will only succeed in that by following the evidence of what works.” 

RT Hon Norman Lamb MP at Evidence Week.

Over the course of the week it was fantastic to hear from such a diverse range of organisations about why evidence matters to them, and how they plan to hold policy-makers accountable to using that evidence to make a difference to the UK. We hope there will be many more Evidence Weeks to come.

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