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Document Abstract
Published: 2013

What counts as good evidence?: Provocation paper for the Alliance for Useful Evidence

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Making better use of evidence is essential if public services are to deliver more for less. Central to this challenge is the need for a clearer understanding about standards of evidence that can be applied to the research informing social policy. This paper reviews the extent to which it is possible to reach a workable consensus on ways of identifying and labelling evidence. It does this by exploring the efforts made to date and the debates that have ensued. Throughout, the focus is on evidence that is underpinned by research, rather than other sources of evidence such as expert opinion or stakeholder views.

The review and arguments are presented in five main sections:

  • practice recommendations
  • hierarchies of evidence
  • beyond hierarchies
  • strong evidence, or just good enough?
  • uses and impacts of standards of evidence and endorsing practices.

The authors conclude that there is no simple answer to the question of what counts as good  evidence. It depends on what we want to know, for what purposes, and in what contexts we envisage that evidence being used. Thus while there is a need to debate standards of evidence we should be realistic about the extent to which such standard–setting will shape complex, politicised, decision making by policymakers, service managers and local practitioners.

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S. Nutley; A. Powell; H. Davies

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