Evidence Based Policy Making and the Modernisation of British Government

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Public Policy and Administration
http://ppa.sagepub.com From Muddling Through to Muddling Up - Evidence Based Policy Making and the Modernisation of British Government Wayne Parsons Public Policy and Administration 2002; 17; 43 DOI: 10.1177/095207670201700304 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ppa.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/17/3/43

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From Muddling Through to Muddling Up Evidence Based Policy Making and the Modernisation of British Government Wayne Parsons Queen Mary, University of London

Abstract This article critically reviews the approach to evidence based policy-making (EBPM) advanced in the Labour government's modernisation agenda. The article contends that EBPM must be understood as a project focused on enhancing the techniques of managing strategic policy-making as opposed to improving the capacities of the social sciences to influence the 'practices of democracy' as envisaged by Lasswell, or facilitating the kind of systems thinking advocated by Schon and by more recent students of 'complexity'. Introduction: Social Science and the Task of Improving Policy Making From its beginning the policy sciences movement was concerned about the relationship between knowledge, policy-making and power. This issue was at the heart of the work of Harold Lasswell, a founding father of public policy as a field of study. Lasswell believed that democratisation was an ongoing process and that the particular challenge facing modern democracies was how to ensure that policy-making could be informed by a new kind of interaction between knowledge producers and users (Torgerson, 1985). It is a matter of historical record that Lasswell's hopes for the 'policy sciences of democracy' were not to be realised. Indeed, if anything, the experience has been more consistent with the rise of the 'policy sciences of tyranny' than of democracy (Dryzek, 1989, p.98). There is scant evidence that policy-making has, in Britain, America, or elsewhere, been informed by the kind of relationship envisaged by Lasswell (Fischer, 1998; Lindblom, 1990; De Leon, 1997). Policy-making in liberal democracies has, for the most part, been more about 'muddling through' rather than a process in which the social or policy sciences have had an influential part to play. Hope, however, has a habit of springing eternal. With the election of a Labour government in 1997, a new chapter in the troubled relationship between government and the Public Policy and Administration Volume 17 No. 3 Autumn 2002 Downloaded from http://ppa.sagepub.com by guest on April 12, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications and PAC. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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social sciences appeared to be opening in Britain. A defining moment for this new chapter came with David Blunkett's speech to the ESRC in February 2000: Influence or Irrelevance: Can Social Science Improve Government? In his speech Blunkett called for a new relationship between social science and government which would bring to an end the 'irrelevance' of social science to the policy-making process. This new relationship would be built on the territory marked out by the secretary of state: in this brave new world government would rely on social...
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