Civil service ‘implements policy without piloting it’

The civil service does not run sufficiently rigorous pilots before it implements policy, a leading policy researcher and former British civil servant has claimed.

By Civil Service World

22 Feb 2012

“In the UK we have too much national experimentation without proper evidence, and too little rigorous pilot experimentation,” Dr Rachel Glennerster of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology said last week. “Government needs to commit to piloting and evaluating new top-down policies before they are introduced.”

Glennerster argued that huge resources go into reforms without proper evidence to back them up and that, once under way, they can be difficult to stop or unwind.

Speaking at an Institute for Government event, she went on to say that some of the obligation for properly evaluating programmes must lie with civil servants. “When a minister wants to put a policy in place, it’s a bit late to do an RCT [Randomised Control Test]. This should be done much earlier. The civil service is an incredible resource for this. It is full of experienced, long-standing staff. They have a responsibility to put things in place that will generate responses, so the next time ministers ask for evidence it’s already there.”

Her views were backed by Jonathan Portes, former Cabinet Office chief economist and current director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Using the example of NHS reform, he argued that health care policy should undergo rigorous testing. However, he added that it can be difficult to design appropriate RCTs.

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