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Telling policy stories: An ethnographic study of the use of evidence in policy-making in the UK

Stevens, Alex (2011) Telling policy stories: An ethnographic study of the use of evidence in policy-making in the UK. Journal of Social Policy, 40 (2). pp. 237-256. ISSN 0047-2794. (doi:10.1017/S0047279410000723) (KAR id:29907)

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Based on participant observation in a team of British policy making civil servants carried out in

2009, this article examines the use that is made of evidence in making policy. It shows that these

civil servants displayed a high level of commitment to the use of evidence. However, their use of

evidence was hampered by the huge volume of various kinds of evidence and by the unsuitability

of much academic research in answering policy questions. Faced with this deluge of inconclusive

information, they used evidence to create persuasive policy stories. These stories were useful

both in making acceptable policies and in advancing careers. They often involved the excision of

methodological uncertainty and the use of ‘killer charts’ to boost the persuasiveness of the

narrative. In telling these stories, social inequality was ‘silently silenced’ in favour of promoting

policies which were ‘totemically’ tough. The article concludes that this selective, narrative use of

evidence is ideological in that it supports systematically asymmetrical relations of power.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1017/S0047279410000723
Uncontrolled keywords: Evidence; policy; ethnography; ideology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare > HV5800 Drug habits and abuse
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Taryn Duhig
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2012 12:53 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:07 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Stevens, Alex:
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