1500.0 - A guide for using statistics for evidence based policy, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/10/2010  First Issue
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Contents >> How good statistics can enhance the decision making process


Statistics are a vital source of evidence as they provide us with clear, objective, numerical data on important aspects of Australian life including the growth and characteristics of our population, economic performance, levels of health and wellbeing and the condition of our surrounding environment.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) plays an important role in this process by providing data ‘to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community, by leading a high quality, objective and responsive national statistical service’ (ABS Mission Statement). When we are able to understand and interpret this data correctly, our ability to identify key areas which require change are enhanced, and our proposals for change are likely to respond to the ‘real’ needs of the Australian community. Statistics can also aid the decision making process by enabling us to establish numerical benchmarks and monitor and evaluate the progress of our policy or program. This is essential in ensuring that policies are meeting initial aims and identifying any areas which require improvement.

Statistics can be used to inform decision making throughout the different stages of the policy-making process. The following framework has been adapted from different approaches to the policy making cycle, outlined in Disability Services, Queensland, 2008; Edwards, 2004; Othman, 2005. The framework highlights the importance of using statistical information at each of the stages of the policy cycle.

STAGE 1 Identify and understand the issue
The first phase involves identifying and understanding the issue at hand. Statistics can assist policy makers to identify existing economic, social or environmental issues that need addressing. For example, statistical analysis could identify issues concerning the aging of the population or the implications of rising inflation. They are also vital for developing a better understanding of the issue by analysing trends over time, or patterns in the data.

STAGE 2 Set the agenda
Statistics provide a valuable source of evidence to support the initiation of new policy or the alteration of an existing policy or program. Once an issue has been identified, it is then necessary to analyse the extent of the issue, and determine what urgency there is for the issue to be addressed. Statistics can highlight the relevance and severity of the issue in numerical terms, and thus demonstrate the importance of developing policy or programs to address the issue as quickly as possible.

STAGE 3 Formulate policy
Once an issue has been identified and recognised as an important policy issue, it is then necessary to determine the best way to respond. This stage requires careful and rigorous statistical analysis and thorough consultation with key stakeholders to establish a clear understanding of the true extent of the problem. This will help to determine the most appropriate policy or program options to address the issue, and the best strategy for implementing these. During this stage, clearly defined aims and goals should be developed with quantifiable indicators for measuring success. Benchmarks should also be established to ensure that progress is measurable following the implementation of the policy/program.

STAGE 4 Monitor and evaluate policy
The policy process does not end once the policy/program is up and running. It is essential that the progress of a policy/program is regularly monitored and evaluated to ensure it is effective. An evaluation of the success of the policy/ program in quantifiable terms can be measured against benchmarks which were established at an earlier stage to accurately measure progress. This enables an assessment to be made as to whether the policy is meeting initial aims and objectives, as well as providing insight and identification of areas that require improvement. The process should then be repeated, by beginning the cycle again.

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