Why Policymakers Ignore Evidence

Great post here (from just before the summer break) on the twelve reasons why politicians don’t listen to evidence, written by Gerry Stoker at Southampton.

Snippet here, but go and read the post for the list.

One common rationalization offered by those that suffer the experience of being de facto ignored (notwithstanding some lip service that might be paid to the importance of evidence especially if the work is commissioned by policy makers) is that policy makers, especially politicians are driven by perverse incentives that lead them to embrace ignorance rather than the insight offered by the knowledge and wisdom of my University colleagues. Politicians, I am told, have short-term desires to get re-elected and advance their careers, so evidence matters little save what it delivers on those fronts. Explanation number 1 is often shortly followed by a second disparaging swipe. Politicians are beholden to powerful interests that can substitute their self-serving claims into the policy process, washing away the impact of more rigorously and transparently scrutinised evidence produced within academia.

There are times when these two cynical traits are in play and explain the “listening but listening policymakers” phenomena. But I want to argue there are other factors more often at work that reflect less the perversity of politics and more its complexity. The good news is that these factors can be ameliorated to some degree by the way that academics behave. For that reason fatalism about politics in response to the experience of appearing to be ignored should be tempered by a better understanding of how politics works. There are 10 movable obstacles (MOs let’s call them) to add to the two more depressing blockages usually identified, giving me my dozen factors. Read on…


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

2 replies on “Why Policymakers Ignore Evidence”

  1. What about when the ignorement breaches public safety and leave folks endangered? The system must have automatic obligations whenever that claim is made to it on any aspect of any issue. Otherwise it is caught acting negligently. But who is going to press these issues, in the instances when none of the prominent parties want to hear them?

Comments are closed.