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17th May 2017

CfPS, Solace and The Alliance for Useful Evidence publish new guide to help councils make evidence based decisions and counter ‘fake news’

Solace, the Centre for Public Scrutiny and The Alliance for Useful Evidence (supported by Nesta) are today publishing guidance for local government scrutineers aimed at helping councils make better, evidence-based decisions.

Using evidence in scrutiny: A practice guide for local government scrutiny sets out the importance of evidence-based decision making in local government policy, how to understand and use evidence effectively in scrutiny, and guidance on where to find ‘good’ evidence.

The challenge of working out what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ evidence is not always straightforward, and this now sits alongside concerns about ‘fake news’ and a ‘post-truth’ narrative in politics. Often there can be too much information and not enough expertise or confidence to work out what is good evidence, or how to use it to inform decision making.

Given the challenges facing councils over the coming years to ensure limited resources are targeted effectively, the role of scrutiny to influence and oversee the decisions will be crucial. The guidance challenges scrutiny to:

– Ensure its own recommendations are underpinned by good evidence;

– Holding the Executive to account for the evidence it uses to make its decisions; and

– Acting as a change agent within the authority to promote evidence as the basis for all council decision making.

Drawing on research and experience from CfPS, Solace and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, Using evidence in scrutiny aims to help bolster scrutiny’s confidence to provide robust challenge to decisions which are not rooted in evidence.

Abdool Kara, Solace spokesperson for Evidence-Based Policy, said:

“Good scrutiny can be a powerful lever for the greater and better use of evidence by councils to inform their decision making. In a time of austerity, we need to ensure that every penny is spent in the most cost-effective way. But we know that some councillors may not be confident in analysing and interpreting the evidence put before them. This guide is intended to provide an easy introduction to the use of evidence to help ensure better decisions are being made, and scarce resources are being applied as wisely as our collective knowledge allows.”

Jacqui McKinlay, Chief Executive of CfPS, said on the launch of the report:

“Good governance and scrutiny have the potential to improve the places and the lives of local people. Yet too often we see decisions based on anecdote, poor advice, or committees being presented with lots of data and not much insight or analysis. Local scrutiny members and officers have a role ensuring its own recommendations are well evidenced and being brave to challenge the executive with robust evidence in the event of a misstep.”