Evidence-informed Policymaking - Which hurdles do Dutch policymakers experience on the national level?

26 October 2021

In recent years, scientific evidence has been used increasingly to inform decisionmakers. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated this tendency. Yet, structures to connect evidence with policymaking have been reworked and strengthened long before the outbreak of the global pandemic. Scientists have tested organisational working models, such as policy labs, to bridge science and decision-making, which is illustrative of the complex nature of policymaking. Different frameworks and methods, including Strategic Evaluation Agendas (SEA), have been adopted, designed and implemented by the Dutch Government. A SEA can be described as a more structured way of evaluating policy outcome through the policy cycle at large. As the Dutch government and Parliament are also aiming to stimulate evidence-informed policy (EIP), you may wonder which incentives and hurdles they experience to reach their goals.

In order to answer this question adequately, ScienceWorks has set up a small research project into EIP in the Netherlands. By sending out questionnaires to policymakers, knowledge brokers and strategists active in Dutch ministries, we collected data on (1) the current state of EIP; (2) challenges for engaging in EIP; and, (3) incentives for the implementation of EIP. The data was collected in April 2021 from 34 respondents, consisting of  knowledge brokers, strategists and policymakers. All of the respondents were government officials at the time of data collection.

Some results of an investigation by ScienceWorks

The results of our questionnaire point out that 90 percent of our respondents agree on EIP being a valuable concept for policy development. It is therefore remarkable that only 35 percent of all respondents actually use scientific knowledge when selecting their policy instruments. Seeing that 42 percent of the knowledge brokers say that EIP gets no priority, while they all agree on EIP being valuable, made us curious on how this lack of priority came to be. We found out that not only the knowledge brokers but all our respondents experience incentives and hurdles when it comes to evidence implementation.

When we sum the incentives for EIP who scored best according to our respondents the list should be presented as follows:

  1. Strategic Evaluation Agenda’s – 7.4/10
  2. Development and sharing of datasets meant for policy development – 7.2/10
  3. A database of evaluations per ministry organised per theme – 7.1/10

The respondents also gave their thoughts on important hurdles they experienced in working with EIP.

  • Scientific evidence is not available in time
  • The experienced time pressure
  • The political context of decision making

Our conclusions

What we can learn from this is that time and political pressure greatly influence the degree in which EIP is possible. The influence of time pressure can be seen in the scores awarded to the incentives. The incentives which scored highest are aiming to make EIP more effective, therewith presumably reducing the involved time pressure for policymakers. Time pressure also explains the worst scored incentive, which required more time in producing new and revised policies. Therefore, we should focus on making the evidence-informed policy process somehow more efficient and plannable. This connects to the political context which is believed to be one of the causes of an aggravating time pressure with regards to policymaking. We should thus focus on developing instruments to connect science and policy more effectively. The policymakers in our survey demonstrate their ambition for EIP while they can only use their capabilities to implement this sufficiently if they are properly internally supported.

A last observation is based on the discrepancy between favouring EIP while hardly using academic knowledge. This might be related to the assertion that evidence on government effectiveness is mostly organised by government itself, through evaluations and profound data analysis, mostly carried out by governmental or private parties. How evidence and academic expertise can enforce each other in the different phases of the policy cycle is another challenge for improving evidence informed policymaking.

Interested in learning more on implementing EIP?

Join us on our international conference ‘Evidence for Policymakers’ on December 1st & 2nd in The Hague, Netherlands.

Authors on behalf of ScienceWorks: Frank Zwetsloot, Chris van de Langkruis also involved in the management of STEPPS and Nikki Kroeze