Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sunday snippets - problems with evidence based public policy

There has been quite a robust discussion on my post Indonesian executions - reflections on the death of eight prisoners, including Bali nine organisers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. I have promised to write something to disentangle all the issues, at least as I see them. Not a for and against piece, just a forensic teasing out. Maybe tomorrow.

I worry sometimes when discussion becomes too personal. Among other things, I am concerned that new commenters might be frozen out. However, I have learned to stand back. When I began, I thought of comments as a discussion between me and my commenters. In fact, it's a discussion among them. My key role is to provide a platform plus content to spark discussion. Of course I become involved in the discussion, but I don't have too.  

The longest discussion threads come from a more current topic where people have views that they want to express. Some of my more personally satisfying reflective or historical pieces attract no comments. Why should they? They are actually not pieces that you can make a lot of comments on unless you are particularly interested in the topic. Still, they provide part of the content that draws people to the blog and are central to search engine traffic.

As part of a discussion on the D E Stevenson group, a US member wrote:
I don't like to be in the "everything was better when I was young club, because so many things were not better. In fact many things were much worse. But many things were better and certainly accessibility to education (without monstrous debt) was one of them. And the middle class was so much stronger and young people could get a good start in life so much more easily. And my government did not seem to be in a state of being bought by those with the money to buy it. Some of these issues really disturb me.
This is a US perspective. However, one of the things that I have noticed is the way themes and attitudes occur across western countries. I am constantly surprised by this,  but should not be. Each country is affected by the same economic and political forces, by the same trending ideological structures that set a fame for policy making.

Here in Australia, and I quote, " the number of university graduates with large debts is growing but fewer graduates are earning enough to pay back their loans – fresh evidence that today's new graduates are struggling to find full-time work and are receiving lower starting salaries than their predecessors."

Another common theme across the group at present is the decline in benefits offered to seniors including senior discounts. I have been a member of this group for the best part of fifteen years, a long enough period to bring many group members into the senior category. Senior is not a word I like, but it is the common official term across the countries represented.

Changing directions, in Western Australia, Premier Colin Barnett has been forced to qualify his words on the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities. In fairness to Mr Barnett, this is not the first such clarification.

The WA Government's plans have led to demonstrations round the country. This is the Armidale protest.

Now in an apparent segue, I want to introduce the concept of evidence based public policy, something that was referred to in the comments on the Indonesian execution post.

The first reference I have found to evidence based public policy dates to 1919, but Governments have always used evidence to inform decisions. To do otherwise would be silly. However, the structured almost mantra like belief  is new. It's also arse end about.

Obviously, you have to use evidence to form your views. However, the real value of evidence based public policy comes in assessing the results. If you base your perceptions and actions only on the past, if that determines what you do, then you won't do new things. Better to do and then assess.

Looking at policy towards Australia's Aboriginal peoples since 1788, I keep thinking how could you think that? This has been evidence based public policy at its worst, and it's still happening. .

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