Intelligent Policy Making for a Complex World: Pragmatism, Evidence and Learning

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Abstract

The credentials of the evidence-based policy movement appear to be increasingly subject to challenge based on research that has highlighted the limits on the use of evidence in policy making. However, moves towards a more ‘realistic’ position of evidence-informed policy making risk conflating prescription with description and undermining a normative vision of better policy making. This article argues that we need to review the ideas that underpin our thinking about evidence-based policy making, and move beyond the territory of instrumental rationality to a position founded upon two intellectual pillars: our developing knowledge about complex adaptive systems; and ideas from a pragmatist philosophical position – especially those of John Dewey – about social scientific knowledge and its role in guiding action to address social problems. This leads us to a conception of ‘intelligent policy making’ in which the notion of policy learning is central.

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