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Analysing use of evidence in public policymaking processes: a theory-grounded content analysis methodology

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A broad range of methodologies is routinely employed to track and analyse use of research evidence in public policymaking. However, available methods and tools are mostly equipped to track ‘evidence’ but are less equipped to capture and represent ‘use’ of evidence. In particular, existing methods overlook policymakers’ frequent use of evidence for political persuasion and bargaining. Drawing on established theories and research tools from the field of persuasive communication, we developed a content analysis instrument for tracking and analysing policymakers’ use of evidence based on the information contained in policy documents. We provide a specific example of applying this tool and demonstrate how it may be used to generate rich and nuanced insights regarding the scope, nature, and timing of policymakers’ evidence use at different levels and phases of the public policymaking process. We conclude with a discussion of potential strengths and limitations and offer recommendations regarding the optimal application of this methodology.
key messages

Studies on policymakers’ use of evidence frequently analyze ‘evidence’ as opposed to ‘use’.
Policymakers frequently use evidence to influence others thoughts and decisions.
Policymakers’ communication with and about evidence is a reliable proxy of evidence use.
Methods from the field of persuasive communication can yield a rich and nuanced account of policymakers’ evidence use.
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Keywords: content analysis; persuasion; public policy; use of evidence

Affiliations: 1: Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, USA 2: University of Minnesota

Appeared or available online: November 1, 2018

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