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The evidence-based policy movement and political idealism

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The opposing views in the scholarly debate on evidence-based policy (EBP) have recently been labeled ‘rationalist’ and ‘constructivist’, where the former are positive to EBP and the latter are not. This framing of the debate is suboptimal, as it conflates critical positions that should be kept separate. This article suggests that the debate should be understood as one between idealists, realists, and counter-idealists about EBP. The realist position, that is, that EBP is difficult or impossible to achieve in practice, has already been treated at length in the debate. The conflict between idealism and counter-idealism, to the contrary, has been neglected. This article aims to stimulate the scholarly debate on EBP by initiating a principled discussion between idealism and counter-idealism about EBP, which should motivate proponents of EBP to formulate their ideal with substantial moral arguments. This places the debate on EBP in the context of normative political theory, where it rightfully belongs.

Key messages
  • The scholarly debate on evidence-based policy (EBP) has been framed as one between ‘rationalists’ and ‘constructivists’

  • It is better understood as one between idealists, realists, and counter-idealists

  • The principled conflict between idealism and counter-idealism is treated at length

  • The discussion should motivate proponents of EBP to formulate their ideal with substantial moral arguments
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Keywords: evidence-based policy; idealism; political theory; public policy

Affiliations: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Appeared or available online: March 18, 2020

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