Poster Paper: Which Evidence Is Relevant to Policy Analysis?

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Baker, University of California, Berkeley

What evidence is relevant and appropriate for an unelected analyst to offer a policy maker? In an ideal democracy, policy analysis should enable an epistemic division of labor. Policy analysts and policy researchers inform political deliberation, administer democratically approved policies, and speak truth to power when politicians misrepresent the facts underlying the policy debate. (Moore 2017). Meanwhile, citizens and their duly elected representatives hold the keys to power by making informed decisions based on the best available evidence from the social sciences.

In practice, this ideal picture is complicated by the need for a procedure to decide which evidence and which social science tools ought to be applied to a particular policy problem. May a policy analyst present any scientific evidence so long as it meets the standard of the discipline? What evidence should be provided to allow policy makers to reach informed decisions without overstepping the role of an advisor? How can analysts collect evidence without inserting their political views?

This paper provides a framework for identifying relevant evidence based on recent developments in deliberative democracy. Analysts use social science tools to generate public reasons before allowing those reasons to be weighed by citizens and policy makers. Analysts retain political neutrality by seeking to be comprehensive, rather than seeking methodological objectivity. In doing so, policy analysts emulate a judge applying the rules of evidence to exclude or admit potential evidence before stepping back to allow the jury to weigh that evidence to a verdict.

This approach entrusts analysts with professional obligations and a professional role distinct from economics, political science, and other relevant social sciences. Analysts determine which fields are relevant according to minimal standards of public reason and have a professional obligation to inform policy makers and stakeholders of reasons that would sway them if understood clearly. In short, analysts have an obligation to inform the democratic process with all the reasons that policy makers and stakeholders will find relevant.

Analysts ought to adopt this approach for three reasons. (1) Unelected analysts and researchers should be concerned that they are imposing illegitimate influence on a democratic process by selectively informing policy makers in a politically slanted manner. (2) A professional approach places policy analysis in a role distinct from the social sciences and well-grounded in democratic theory. (3) The approach can clarify the relationship of non-quantitative factors such as equity, fairness, and historical perspectives with quantitative measure in economics, statistics, and other social sciences.