Politicians, including prime ministers, don’t always – if ever – study the available evidence before they make policy. This week’s kite flying by David Cameron about welfare was an example. There’s a lot of modelling and empirical data on the interaction of the benefits system, family size, work and so on, and it’s worth looking at,
But lately more voices are insisting policy interventions are put on trial beforehand, and proposals subjected to rigorous assessment before being rolled out. The Alliance for Useful Evidence is doing great work – it is co-funded by Nesta, the Economic & Social Research Council and the Big Lottery and the RSS has been an enthusiastic supporter.
A pre-condition for good evidence is usually robust numbers, and that requires the evidence gatherers and analysts to be able to handle and understand statistics. Nesta argues ’for rigour in the generation of evidence’. That will often mean applying quantitative methods. That message is starting to feed back to social science teachers, and students intending to study sociology, social policy and politics. They need to have a capacity to gather and make sense of data.
Professor John Macinnes of the University of Edinburgh, a member of the RSS getstats campaign board, is leading the ESRC’s initiative and the Higher Education Academy is on board, as teachers build up a bank of tools and presentations to help embed stats in social research, such as the Destress collection.
Nesta says, and we agree, that alongside the ’Geek Manifesto’ (there’s an event at Nesta next week), we need a geek manifesto for the social sciences.