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Evidence-informed policy in the post-truth era

Evidence-informed policy in the post-truth era

principal investigator
Karol Olejniczak
Ph.D. / Associate Professor

political scientist, specializing in design and evaluation of public policies, behavioral insight, serious games in public sector

Full bio
funding source : Fulbright Commission
discipline: political science and public administration
research center: SWPS University
location: Warsaw
duration: 2021

The application of research insights in policymaking lies at the heart of the public policy
discipline and practice. However, the recent emergence of the post-truth phenomenon creates a substantially new and challenging context for implementing evidence-informed policy initiatives. Professor Karol Olejniczak from SWPS University will research new approaches that public agencies could employ in order to adapt their evidence-informed policies to the post-truth phenomenon.

 

RESEARCH PROJECT

Evidence-informed policy in the post-truth era

Research UnitUNI SWPS english
Grant Amount  USD 39,100 
Funding SourceFulbright Foundation

Duration of Research Project:February-September, 2021

 

The application of research insights in policymaking lies at the heart of the public policy discipline and practice. However, the recent emergence of the post-truth phenomenon creates a substantially new and challenging context for implementing evidence-informed policy initiatives. Professor Karol Olejniczak from SWPS University will research new approaches that public agencies could employ in order to adapt their evidence-informed policies to the post-truth phenomenon.

Project Objectives

The evidence-informed policy uses insights from various forms of research and analysis to understand the underlying mechanisms that drive the behaviors and choices of policy addressees (Pawson, 2006; Nutley, Walter, & Davies, 2007; Weaver, 2015). This approach substantially increases the effectiveness of policy solutions in addressing socio-economic problems, satisfying the demands of the citizens, and ultimately making the world a better place (Davies, Nutley, & Smith, 2009; Prewitt, Schwandt, & Straf, 2012; Shillabeer, Buss, & Rousseau, 2011).

The application of research insights in policymaking lies at the heart of the public policy discipline and practice. It is rooted in American pragmatism that treats research knowledge as a way of tackling social challenges (Lasswell, 1951). Over the last 20 years, it has been strengthened by the Evidence-Based Policy movement, which has postulated robust use of data in establishing "what works" (Hoornbeek, 2011; Nussle & Orszag, 2015). The two most recent examples of this approach are: application of behavioral insights and social experiments in designing policy instruments (John, 2017; OECD, 2017; World Bank, 2015), and the introduction of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (U.S. Congress 115/4174; Hart and Shaw, 2018).

The recent emergence of the post-truth phenomenon creates a substantially new and challenging context for implementing evidence informed policy initiatives. Post-truth is defined as denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping decision-making than appeals to emotions and personal belief (McIntyre, 2018). Post-truth is rooted in universal human mechanisms of bounded rationality (Bendor, 2015). However, new modes and patterns of social communication have exacerbated the problem to an unprecedented scale (McIntyre, 2018; Nichols, 2017).

In the public policy context, post-truth means that policies are designed based on how they make addressees feel rather than how well they work in reality. This creates a substantial challenge for providing effective and efficient public services to society. It erodes a factual base for diagnosing problems and designing policy solutions, and it obstructs implementation by limiting the basis for consensus and coalition building among stakeholders and general public (Kavanagh & Rich, 2018).

There has been a dynamic discussion about the roots, implications, and strategies to tackle the problem of post-truth in societies on both individual and systemic levels (Kavanagh & Rich, 2018; Levitin, 2017; Nichols, 2017). However, so far, there has been a limited examination of adaptations taking place in every-day policy design processes and tools used by government institutions (Hallsworth, Egan, Rutter, & McCrae, 2018).

Therefore, a question arises: "What are the new approaches that public agencies employ in order to adapt their evidence-informed policies to the post-truth phenomenon?". Professor Olejniczak wants to address this question by exploring two case studies of recent initiatives, including: (1) an application of behavioral insights labs in city policies, and (2) an application of evidence-building plans in federal agencies.

These two case studies are highly complementary in terms of the degree of complexity of the policy tools, types of institutions involved, and their managerial orientation. Behavioral Insights is applied mainly to projects executed by a coalition of cities and research institutions, and it has external orientation - on addressing local community issues. Evidence-building plans are related to programs and policies executed by federal agencies and are treated as a management aid for internal agency processes.

 The research project will be a substantial contribution to the emerging discipline of public policy in Poland and will provide valuable input to international debates. The discipline of public policy emphasizes the high practical value of well-calibrated theories and the cooperation with the practitioners.

Olejniczak, Karol Principal Investigator
Bio
Tak
Specialization
political scientist, specializing in design and evaluation of public policies, behavioral insight, serious games in public sector
Permanent employee
Tak
First and last name
Karol Olejniczak
Academic degree or title
Ph.D. / Associate Professor
City
warszawa
Discipline
political-science-and-public-administration
Institute
Institute of Social Sciences
Position
profesor uczelni
Role in the Faculty
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Role in the Department
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Role in the Institute
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Role in the Research Center
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Faculty
Array
Ph.D. / Associate Professor Karol Olejniczakpolitical scientist, specializing in design and evaluation of public policies, behavioral insight, serious games in public sector

 

Research Methodology

The proposed research is exploratory; it is based on case study design combined with qualitative methods of data collection and analysis:

Data collection methods and sources will cover:

  • Systematic literature review
  • Interviews with representatives and review of activities of two regional behavioral insights policy labs: DC Lab (Washington DC), and GOVLabPHL (City of Philadelphia);
  • Interviews with evaluation officers responsible for the implementation of evidence building plans in selected federal agencies
  • Interviews with U.S. organizations and think tanks involved in the promotion of evidence informed approaches to public policy
  • Participation in academic seminars, semi-formal meetings, conferences and workshops devoted to the initiatives of behavioral insights and Evidence-Based Policymaking.

The qualitative analysis of collected data will include idea mapping, exploratory, and structural coding with the use of Maxqda software.

Significance and Application of Research Results

The research project will be a substantial contribution to the emerging discipline of public policy in Poland and will provide valuable input to international debates. The discipline of public policy emphasizes the high practical value of well-calibrated theories and the cooperation with the practitioners.

There is only a limited body of academic publications discussing evidence-informed public policy in Poland (Górniak & Mazur, 2010; Józefowski, 2012; Olejniczak, 2012; Zybała, 2013). The issues of coordinating evidence streams are well discussed but mostly concerning Cohesion Policy evaluation in Poland (Górniak, 2007; Haber & Szałaj, 2010), while the literature on behavioral insights is incidental (Olejniczak & Śliwowski, 2014). Thus, this research project will address a substantial knowledge gap in Polish academic literature.

For the practice of public policy in Poland, the study could provide highly inspirational material. The community of policy analysts and evaluation officers has been looking for new methods of feeding their work into the policy process. The evidence-building plans resemble evaluation plans required by the European Union, but they allow integrating different streams of evidence. In case of behavioral insights, there has been emerging interest in its applications to public policy, however the practical pool of examples available for Polish practitioners is still minimal, while public administration keeps looking for concrete inspirations.

Looking more broadly at international debates, the project will contribute to the examination of adaptations taking place in everyday policy design processes and tools used by government institutions in the post-truth context. American community of researchers and practitioners may especially be interested in the following two points: (1) a comparative aspect of evidence building plans in U.S. and evaluation plans in the European Union, and (2) the use of design-led approaches to facilitate the development of a learning agenda, and bringing together various perspectives on evidence.

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