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WHAT IS EVIDENCE BASED DECISION MAKING?
Governments are responsible for making policy decisions to improve the quality of life for individuals and the population. Using a scientific approach to investigate all available evidence can lead to policy decisions that are more effective in achieving desired outcomes as decisions are based on accurate and meaningful information.
Evidence based decision making requires a systematic and rational approach to researching and analysing available evidence to inform the policy making process. It ‘helps people make well informed decisions about policies, programmes and projects by putting the best available evidence from research at the heart of policy development and implementation.’ (Davies, 2004: 3).
Evidence based decisions can produce more effective policy decisions, and as a result, better outcomes for the community. When evidence is not used as a basis for decision making, or the evidence that is used is not an accurate reflection of the ‘real’ needs of the key population/s, the proposals for change are likely to produce ineffective outcomes and may even lead to negative implications for those they are seeking to benefit (Urban Institute, 2003).
As a result, the evidence based approach to decision making has gained momentum in recent years as it strives to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of policy making processes by focusing on ‘what works’ (Banks, 2009).
The advantages of using an evidence based approach to policy making has been discussed by many researchers (see for example Argyrous, 2009; Banks, 2009; Othman, 2005; Taylor, 2005), with some common arguments emerging to support its application throughout the policy making cycle. Using an evidence based approach to policy making can provide the following advantages:
• helps ensure that policies are responding to the real needs of the community, which in turn, can lead to better outcomes for the population in the long term
• can highlight the urgency of an issue or problem which requires immediate attention. This is important in securing funding and resources for the policy to be developed, implemented and maintained
• enables information sharing amongst other members of the public sector, in regard to what policies have or haven’t worked. This can enhance the decision making process
• can reduce government expenditure which may otherwise be directed into ineffective policies or programs which could be costly and time consuming
• can produce an acceptable return on the financial investment that is allocated toward public programs by improving service delivery and outcomes for the Australian community
• ensures that decisions are made in a way that is consistent with our democratic and political processes which are characterised by transparency and accountability.