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Open Access Analysts, advocates and applicators: three discourse coalitions of UK evidence and policy

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Background: Continued growth of the evidence and policy field has prompted calls to consolidate findings in pursuit of a more holistic understanding of theory and practice.

Aims and objectives: The aim of this paper is to develop and explore an analytical typology that offers a way to consider the heterogeneity of different actors in UK evidence and policy.

Methods: We draw upon a discourse coalitions approach to analyse a series of semi-structured interviews with a cross-section of professionals in the evidence and policy field.

Findings: We describe an analytical typology that is composed of three discourse coalitions, each with their own framings of the problems of evidence and policy relations, the practices needed to address these, the organisation of people, and their priorities for future development. These are: the analytical coalition, which typically theorises evidence and policy relations in a way that matches empirical observations; the advocacy coalition, which typically normatively refines and prescribes particular evidence and policy relations; and the application coalition, which typically evaluates contextual conditions and enacts techniques to bring evidence into policy and practice.

Discussion and conclusions: We discuss the potential of this analytical lens to inform recognised tensions in evidence and policy relations, and consider how greater awareness of the positioning of individuals within these coalitions may help to foster improved collaboration and consolidation in the field. Ultimately, we note that distinct priorities in the three coalitions signify different visions for progress within the field that need to be negotiated.

Key messages
  • Consolidation of the evidence and policy field requires a recognition of its heterogeneity.

  • We propose three discourse coalitions – analytical, advocacy and application – to describe the field.

  • Each discourse coalition reflects different problem perceptions, people, practices, and priorities.

  • Recognition of personal positioning in the discourse coalitions could help the field’s development.
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Keywords: discourse coalitions; evidence; evidence-informed policymaking; policy

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford, UK 2: University of Sheffield, UK

Appeared or available online: February 16, 2021

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