Evidence to policy: A journey of a thousand miles

By Denny John, Evidence Synthesis Specialist, Campbell Collaboration

evidence for policy panel members


The Campbell Collaboration, along with the Global Development Network (GDN) and 3ie, recently conducted an event bringing together policy makers, academics, impact evaluators, and evidence researchers, on how to leverage national and global research-based evidence on governance and service delivery in India. As I sat through the event listening to the speakers, one thing that emerged is that along with the job of collecting the right evidence, evaluators and evidence researchers need to invest sufficient time and resources to engage with policy makers to ensure evidence is translated into policy action.

 It is well-known that the translation of evidence into action in the policy arena requires substantial time and investment because of the many stakeholders, and competing interests involved. Stakeholders include researchers and evaluators, civilians, citizens, businesspersons, politicians, and government officials. And, all of them have different views and interests. Among these, the footprint of the government is quite large, and researchers should keep the ‘politics of evidence’ in mind while informing politicians and government advocating for policy change.   

While working to inform policy change, researchers could try to look at the following 4 steps. Step 1 would be to close the gap by collecting, analyzing, and translating scientific evidence for policy decisions that will ultimately lead to policy reforms. The process of systematically collecting evidence in the form of systematic reviews as prescribed by the Campbell Collaboration would be the first such step. 

The policy process is never linear, i.e. moving from the identification of problems to the implementation of policy solutions. In the real world, the policy process is quite complex, and the policy makers draw information from various sources. In addition, some prominent individuals and corporate bodies with their own agendas could also influence the policy-makers, thus making the policy process a convoluted journey. Thus a ‘blueprint approach’ to policy is not the best approach. In such a scenario, as a next step researchers should identify ‘change champions’ from the government to influence policy with relevant evidence. 

 Thirdly, researchers should always be on the lookout for ‘windows of opportunity’[i] that are temporal factors in the politics of public policy that reflect broader political trends and cycles. These usually occur in specific cycles, sometimes tied to elections and budgets, and in other cases which focus nation’s attention on an issue, such as malnutrition deaths. In these moments, researchers should work alongside the ‘change champions’ in government and the media by providing them with the tools of evidence, in the form of policy briefs and evidence summaries, to hasten and strengthen policy decisions using evidence.

 Lastly, researchers should look at the presence of feasible policy options which could be used to influence policy change. One example is the current movement of the establishment of a ‘Medical Technology Assessment Board (MTAB)’ in India, as recommended in the 12th Plan Working Group on Health Research. The MTAB is proposed to be one-stop shop to review standards for medicines, vaccines, devices or insurance; the health technology assessment (HTA) will involve evidence on clinical effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness, as well as the social, ethical, and legal aspects of the use of health technologies in India. Several researchers in India are now using this policy option in the field of vaccines, immunization policies, and medical devices, to influence health policies through better evidence in these areas.

 The journey from generating evidence to influencing policy is a journey of thousand miles, but like all good journeys it will start with a single first step: by collecting evidence.

 [i] Paul Erwin & Ross Browson, Principles of Public Health Practice, 4th Edition. Cengage Learning, USA: MA

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