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  • Author or Editor: Benjamin Hawkins x
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This article adopts a multiple streams approach to examine the failure to implement minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in England. It demonstrates that the multiple streams model provides a valuable conceptual tool for explaining how and why policies are, and are not, enacted. However, it finds that while problem streams and policy streams are useful heuristic devices, in practice they may overlap and be mutually constitutive. The case of MUP also highlights the potential for policy spillover between jurisdictions and different policy contexts, showing both limits to, and the complex nature of, these processes. It shows the need for high level political commitment in order to implement controversial policies, even when they are backed by strong supporting evidence. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of civil society actors not just in bringing policy issues onto the agenda, but in supporting governments in adopting measures to address them.

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Background

Current debates on e-cigarette policy in the UK are highly acrimonious and are framed in terms of evidence-based policymaking.

Aims and objectives

The article aims to understand the use of evidence in policymaking in the context of both political controversy and limited policy-relevant evidence via a case study of UK e-cigarette debates.

Methods

The study draws on a series of semi-structured interviews with policy actors to examine their positions on e-cigarette policy process and their use of evidence to support this.

Findings

Policy actors articulate a strong commitment to evidence-based policymaking and claim that their positions are evidence-based. Some actors also claim emerging consensus around their positon as a rhetorical tool in the debate. Respondents argued that actors adopting opposing policy positions fail to follow the evidence base. This is attributed to a lack of understanding or disregard for the relevant evidence for political or ideological reasons.

Discussion

Respondents adhere to a rationalist understanding of policymaking in which policy disputes can be settled by recourse to ‘the evidence’. Interpretative policy analysis suggests that multiple legitimate framings of policy issues, supported by different bodies of evidence, are possible. Policy differences are thus not due to bad faith but to policy actors framing the issue at stake in different terms and thus advocating different policy responses.

Conclusions

Process of ‘frame reflection’ may help to overcome the acrimony of current policy leading to more effective engagement by public health actors in the e-cigarettes policy debates.

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Calls for evidence-based policy often fail to recognise the fundamentally political nature of policy making. Policy makers must identify, evaluate and utilise evidence to solve policy problems in the face of competing priorities and political agendas. Evidence should inform but cannot determine policy choices. This paper draws on theories of ‘good governance’ to develop a framework for analysing and evaluating processes of evidence-informed policy making. ‘Good governance’ requires the use of appropriate bodies of high-quality evidence to inform policy and promotes decision-making processes that are transparent, accountable and open to contestation by the populations they govern.

Open access

Background:

Taxation of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages is considered a key policy for improving population-level nutrition. Implementation is influenced by the way evidence is used and framed in public debates. At this time, no sugar tax has been implemented in Germany.

Aims and objectives:

This study aims to deepen the understanding of the political dynamics that influence the adoption of sugar taxes by analysing the use of evidence in the German media debate on sugar taxation and comparing its findings with analyses from other countries.

Methods:

In 114 German newspaper articles, published between 01/2018 and 03/2019, we analysed the use and framing of evidence with an abductive thematic analysis approach. We compared our findings with analyses on the framing around sugar taxation from Mexico, the US and the UK.

Findings:

Evidence was a salient component of the German debate. As in the comparison countries, evidence was used by both tax proponents and opponents but framed differently, for example, regarding problem definitions. However, the German debate relied more strongly on examples from other countries and less on economic arguments.

Discussion and conclusions:

Our findings suggest that German tax proponents should proactively consider economic arguments and counter spurious arguments made by tax opponents. Researchers should be aware of their work’s potential international spillover effects, and public health advocates should correct expectations regarding the evidence on, and health effects of, isolated measures against obesity. To deepen the understanding of the German policy process, further research should involve social media, public documents and stakeholder networks.

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