The third and final part of this blog series on evidence-informed policymaking looks at the importance of stakeholders.
Involving stakeholders in the development of public policy seems a no-brainer. After all, it is stakeholders who will ultimately interpret, implement and experience policy and they are best placed to anticipate any unintended effects or consequences on the ground. Following the general election, David Bell (who ran the Department for Education under both Ed Balls and Michael Gove and is now Vice-Chancellor of Reading University), said that while evidence will always be interpreted through an ideological lens, ‘the best lessons for politicians come from teachers themselves’.
Though teachers are an obvious interest group, there are others. One of the complexities of education policy is that stakeholders may include (at a minimum), teachers, parents and students, and arguably, many members of wider society who see education as fundamental to our concept of self.
The Eurydice report, Support Mechanisms for Evidence-based Policy-Making in Education (2017), comments that:
‘Education is a field where there are strong a priori beliefs tied to both our identities and experiences, and to what education systems should deliver.’
Most governments involve stakeholders in the process of policy development to some extent, but a number of our European neighbours legally entrench teachers, parents and education stakeholders in the policy-making process.
- In Latvia, there is a legal requirement to involve social partners and professional organisations to contribute at all stages of the policy cycle. They have a sophisticated system to mediate the flow of information between policy-makers and evidence providers and society as well as strict requirements around transparency. For example, ‘all surveys and analysis paid for out of the public purse must be made publically available.’
- In Switzerland, a public and stakeholder consultation is officially required as part of the legislative process at both national and Cantonal level (Cantons are responsible for compulsory education), ‘anyone and any organisation (e.g. research institutions, employers’ organisation and trade unions) may participate in a consultation procedure’.
- Estonian legislation must be informed by evidence and the Ministry facilitates the flow of information between evidence providers and policy makers. Evidence is gathered and used to improve existing policy initiatives.
The explicit acknowledgment outlined above, of the importance of stakeholders to policy formulation is gratifying. For example in Estonia, ‘there were significant differences in how well students from different institutions were informed about the system, it showed the crucial role of higher education institutions in disseminating information. More than half of the students did not apply for support as they assumed they would not qualify… The Ministry of Education used …the findings to improve the system. This demonstrates how evidence can be used to directly alter the way a policy is delivered in order to increase its efficacy shows the importance of collecting evidence from the wider stakeholder community.
The challenge facing researchers, teachers, parents and students is to ensure that where policy fails, where it has a negative rather than a positive impact and where it is diminishing rather than enhancing the effectiveness of the education system, we speak out and make sure that our voices are heard and the widest possible pool of evidence is drawn upon.