Evidence Ecosystems and the Challenge of Humanising and Normalising Evidence

Article by Geoff Mulgan: “It is reasonable to assume that the work of governments, businesses and civil society goes better if the people making decisions are well-informed, using reliable facts and strong evidence rather than only hunch and anecdote.  The term ‘evidence ecosystem’1  is a useful shorthand for the results of systematic attempts to make this easier, enabling decision makers, particularly in governments, to access the best available evidence, in easily digestible forms and when it’s needed.  

…This sounds simple.  But these ecosystems are as varied as ecosystems in nature.  How they work depends on many factors, including how political or technical the issues are; the presence or absence of confident, well-organised professions; the availability of good quality evidence; whether there is a political culture that values research; and much more.

In particular, the paper argues that the next generation of evidence ecosystems need a sharper understanding of how the supply of evidence meets demand, and the human dimension of evidence.  That means cultivating lasting relationships rather than relying too much on a linear flow of evidence from researchers to decision-makers; it means using conversation as much as prose reports to ensure evidence is understood and acted on; and it means making use of stories as well as dry analysis.  It depends, in other words, on recognising that the users of evidence are humans.

In terms of prescription the paper emphasises:

  • Sustainability/normalisation: the best approaches are embedded, part of the daily life of decision-making rather than depending on one-off projects and programmes.  This applies both to evidence and to data.  Yet embeddedness is the exception rather than the rule.
  • Multiplicity: multiple types of knowledge, and logics, are relevant to decisions, which is why people and institutions that understand these different logics are so vital.  
  • Credibility and relationships: the intermediaries who connect the supply and demand of knowledge need to be credible, with both depth of knowledge and an ability to interpret it for diverse audiences, and they need to be able to create and maintain relationships, which will usually be either place or topic based, and will take time to develop, with the communication of evidence often done best in conversation.
  • Stories: influencing decision-makers depends on indirect as well as direct communication, since the media in all their forms play a crucial role in validating evidence and evidence travels best with stories, vignettes and anecdotes.

In short, while evidence is founded on rigorous analysis, good data and robust methods, it also needs to be humanised – embedded in relationships, brought alive in conversations and vivid, human stories – and normalised, becoming part of everyday work…(More)”.

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