Evidence & Policy
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Peep show: a framework for watching how evidence is communicated inside policy organisations

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  • 1 Australian National University, , Australia
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Background:

Seeing how governments formulate decisions on our behalf is a crucial component of their ability to claim democratic legitimacy. This includes being seen to draw on the knowledge and evidence produced by their civil service policy advisers. Yet much of the advice provided to governments is being increasingly withdrawn from public accessibility.

Aims and objectives:

To counter this diminishing transparency, I propose a framework for observing how evidence is made and used in the political decision-making process. Although my framework is constructed within the Australian context, I hope to encourage its use in other government and policy settings.

Methods:

Using an example from my own research into the language of rejected policy advice, I construct a framework for locating how policy actors formulate and communicate their evidence. With primary material drawn from Freedom of Information releases, my framework qualitatively examines three impact factors with which to situate policy advice: text, organisational influences and the interplay between the front and back regions of politics and policy. To counter releases’ limitations, they are contextualised with publicly available, contemporaneous statements.

Findings:

Text displayed excessive detail, inviting multiple interpretations. Organisational influences suggested an insular culture over-reliant on its reputation. Interplay linked to evidence as ostensibly authority-imparting but ultimately adding to the lack of transparency around how political decisions were made.

Discussion and conclusions:

Even when processes are hidden from public view, they can be found. By connecting an array of impact factors, my framework here illuminated a complex choreography of civil servants communicating with their government about a contentious policy issue and revealed the political affordances they enabled in the process.

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  • 1 Australian National University, , Australia

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