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‘The Politics of Evidence’ Conference Report now available

2013 September 16

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 22.45.01On April 23 and 24, 2013, one hundred development professionals debated ‘the politics of evidence’, the report of which is now available (BPF PoE conference report). The conference provided an opportunity to share and strategize for people working on transformative development, and who are trying to reconcile their understanding of messy, unpredictable and risky pathways of societal transformation with bureaucracy driven protocols. We distinguished between the big ‘E’ (evidence of what works or not) and small ‘e’ (evidence about performance) and the interaction between these.

Participants discussed four questions, using their own cases of generating and using evidence:

  1. What is ‘the politics of evidence’ – factors, actors, artefacts? And why is it important?
  2. What are the effects on transformative intentions and impacts of potentially useful approaches on evidence of and for change?
  3. Under what conditions do these practices retain their utility rather than undermine transformational development efforts? What factors and relationships drive the less useful practices and protocols?
  4. How are people strategizing to make the most of what the results and evidence agendas have to offer transformational development?

Participants noted the positive effect of encouraging more critical reflection in planning and programming. Negative effects included the questionable ethics of certain demands, the unclear utility of some artefacts, wasted resources, and ‘sausage numbers’.

Participants shared strategies for reducing the perverse effects of evidence artefacts and for enhancing their use for more transformative effect. Recognising one’s own power to make a difference, through either resistance or creative compliance, was considered a critical first step. Understanding the contexts that generate the promotion and use of evidence artefacts helps influence their effective use and critical reflection. Building collaborative relationships and stronger organisational capacities to engage meaningfully with evidence and results artefacts were also areas where participants had usefully invested efforts.

More evidence is needed about the ‘politics of evidence’, in particular how it is being experienced by grassroots workers and mid-level government staff. More examples about the utility of certain artefacts are also needed, as are ways to hold organisations to account about the utility and relevance of required protocols.

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