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Appeals to evidence for the resolution of wicked problems: the origins and mechanisms of evidentiary bias

Parkhurst, Justin (2016) Appeals to evidence for the resolution of wicked problems: the origins and mechanisms of evidentiary bias. Policy Sciences, 49 (4). pp. 373-393. ISSN 0032-2687

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Identification Number: 10.1007/s11077-016-9263-z


Wicked policy problems are often said to be characterized by their ‘intractability’, whereby appeals to evidence are unable to provide policy resolution. Advocates for ‘Evidence Based Policy’ (EBP) often lament these situations as representing the misuse of evidence for strategic ends, while critical policy studies authors counter that policy decisions are fundamentally about competing values, with the (blind) embrace of technical evidence depoliticizing political decisions. This paper aims to help resolve these conflicts and, in doing so, consider how to address this particular feature of problem wickedness. Specifically the paper delineates two forms of evidentiary bias that drive intractability, each of which is reflected by contrasting positions in the EBP debates: ‘technical bias’ - referring to invalid uses of evidence; and ‘issue bias’ - referring to how pieces of evidence direct policy agendas to particular concerns. Drawing on the fields of policy studies and cognitive psychology, the paper explores the ways in which competing interests and values manifest in these forms of bias, and shape evidence utilization through different mechanisms. The paper presents a conceptual framework reflecting on how the nature of policy problems in terms of their complexity, contestation, and polarization can help identify the potential origins and mechanisms of evidentiary bias leading to intractability in some wicked policy debates. The discussion reflects on whether being better informed about such mechanisms permit future work that may lead to strategies to mitigate or overcome such intractability in the future.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2016 The Author © CC BY 4.0
Divisions: Social Policy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2016 13:56
Last Modified: 29 May 2024 07:15
Projects: 282118
Funders: European Research Council

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