Keeping up with the Jönses: European mechanisms for evidence-informed policymaking

By Sigrid Boyd and Claudia Sumner

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Second of a three-part blog series on evidence-informed policymaking.

Promoting the use of evidence in policymaking is something to which politicians often pay lip service – no-one wants to appear ill-informed or unaware of the outcome of previous policy initiatives. But many politicians are not experts in the field prior to ministerial appointment and they, consequently, rely heavily upon the structures in place to inform and support their decisions. In our previous blog post, NFER looked at the ‘what works’ centres that exist in England to synthesise research findings into evidence that policy-makers can actually use.

In this blog post, we look at the way research evidence informs education policy in other European countries, by drawing on the latest NFER/Eurydice report, which maps the structures that exist to support evidence-informed policy making in 42 education systems across Europe.

It offers a fascinating insight into the many and varied ways that policy-makers and researchers collaborate to design interventions that, the evidence indicates, will be effective:

  • In Germany, for example, the German Education Portal is a one-stop-shop for policymakers, researcher and scientists offering data and comparative analysis on ‘early childhood education, instructional quality, individual support for children at risk, and effects of educational reforms’. It goes further than the creation and collation of evidence in conducting evaluations of education policy initiatives in the context of existing research and comparative education systems.
  • In Finland, evidence is embedded at the start of the policymaking process. Stakeholders and public bodies are typically asked to provide evidence at the first stage of policy development. Statistics Finland provide statistical and survey data and the Finnish National Agency for Education offers conferences on all aspects of the education system, as well as data, reports and analysis on all stages, from early childhood to higher and vocational qualifications, as well as international comparisons, policy evaluation and the monitoring of policy implementation.
  • In Norway, the Knowledge Centre for Education synthesises and disseminates research in its database and also draws out key messages for both policy-makers and practitioners, working with international collaborators, such as EPPI-Centre at University College London, the Campbell Collaboration and the What Works Clearinghouse in the US.
  • In Poland there is a legal requirement to involve stakeholders in policy-making and at the draft consultation stage, all involved parties are required to base their reasoning on rational arguments derived from the available scientific sources, outcomes of analysis and empirical research.

What emerges from this complex picture is that, in many education systems across Europe, policy development, implementation and evaluation is a rigorous, evidence-informed process. The logic and value of this approach is self-evident: systems that learn from previous experience (their own and others’) are more likely to design interventions that ‘do what is says on the tin’. They are also more likely to succeed in addressing the entrenched challenges faced by all developed nations of reducing inequality and raising attainment.

The first blog post in this series ‘Importance of evidence in a post-truth world’ can be read here.