So, last September, that is, September 2016, I wrote that my time with Bristol CC was drawing to a close. And some people actually read that and wondered what was going on as I clearly still seemed to be there (2 days a week – down from 3 originally). Well, despite the financial climate, some funds were found. And, then, it happened again. The funding, that is. It was there from April 2017. So, the work continues for now. Next hurdle, new contract April 18…
So a bit about policy change and policy development…
Times change but a lot of focus has remained on ‘bridging the gap between research and practice’ and how we do this in our day-to-day work. The organisational structure still tend to work against this. I have posed a question: Why do we stop reading peer reviewed evidence when we move on from University study? The dislocation is immediate and profound. Moving on to a consultancy job in planning, transport, urban design etc… results in one of the opening ups of ‘the gap’ and as time goings on the academic evidence recedes and a different dominant paradigm takes hold. For government I term this the bounded rationality triad – where business as usual and incrementalism muddle along with ideology and politics as the dominant forces. Scientific evidence gets used when it supports what has already been selected.
Of course, policy making takes place in the context of uncertain conditions and increasingly complex policy problems. At the same time there is an often stated desire among policy makers to formulate policies based on the best available evidence. But the evidence has to align with what Kingdon called ‘The political stream’. This is the standpoint of politicians. It is composed of such things as ‘public mood’, pressure group campaigns, election results, and which Party holds power in government. This stream is based on consensus and compromise so that evidence-based proposals may be weakened through any processes of negotiation. For evidence to be used in policy it has to survive attempts to filter it out, a process which is achieved by finding powerful sponsors who advocate particular kinds of evidence in policy. Evidence which survives the various filtration mechanisms stands the best chance of being used in policy. Proposals that meet several criteria enhance their chance of survival.
A coda is the suggestion that the majority of what is described as ‘policy learning’ is ‘touristic’ or ‘soft’. This is that policy makers see something they like and attempt to introduce it into their home context without sufficient attention to how policies are transferred.4
 Kingdon, J. 1995 2nd (ed) Agendas, alternatives, and public policies, New York: HarperCollins.
 Stevens, A, 2007, Survival of the ideas that fit: An evolutionary analogy for the use of evidence in policy, Social Policy and Society 6, 1, 25–3More anon.