Sound Expectations: From impact evaluation to policy change

By 01/04/2020

This paper was produced by 3ie (the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation), an initiative that improves the lives of people in the developing world by promoting better informed policies through financing high-quality impact evaluations and campaigns.

Sound Expectations: From impact evaluation to policy change, by Vanesa Weyrauch and Gala Díaz Langou, reviews the academic literature on impact evaluations’ (IE) potential influence on policy, in order to guide those producing case studies. It aims to do this by addressing the question of ‘to what extent does evidence from evaluations impact the policymaking process?’. This is done across two sections: (1) a discussion of policy influence as an objective of research (i.e. if an IE influences policy); and (2) identification of the factors and forces explaining why policy influence was or was not achieved.

To begin with, the authors define ‘research’ and ‘policy’. This paper focuses on research in the form of IEs. IEs assess the (intended and unintended) changes that can be attributed to a particular intervention. The definition of policy is broad and includes documents, legislation, agenda-setting, and all levels of policy production by governments, international organisations, bilateral agencies, and civil society organisations.

Policy influence goals are important because they provide a structure for working out whether research from an IE has impacted policy or not. Sound Expectations explores how others have categorised policy objectives. Case studies should determine what type of policy influence objective an IE has.

Factors and forces shape the potential impact a piece of research has on policy. Therefore these factors are important in order to establish how an IE can impact policy and to inform the policy influence goals.

These factors are divided into three areas: (a) factors that determine demand for evidence; (b) factors that determine supply of evidence; and (c) factors relating to the intersection of supply and demand. Each of these is analysed further in the document.

The paper finishes by summarising its aims, the importance of setting policy impact objectives, and the mediation role played by factors relating IEs and policy change. A number of practical challenges are considered.