This paper draws on insights from a Scottish community planning partnership and highlights the complex and diverse ways in which public services use evidence in decision-making processes.


Three interlocking circles containing a title and text. The top circle has the title Practical Wisdom and the text 'considered judgements on alternatives for practical action underpinned by values and ethics'; the bottom left-hand circle has Craft Knowledge and text ' knowledge based on practical experience - sensitive to context and gained over time'; and the bottom right-hand circle has the title Empirical knowledge and the text 'drawn from a range of relevant data sources including quantitative and qualitative research 'This study involved an in-depth case study of a single local authority area and included interviews with 20 participants in community planning—service providers, community members and research and policy officers.

The research highlights the complex and diverse ways in which public services use evidence in decision-making processes. While the findings are not generalisable across all Scottish community planning partnerships (CPPs), they provide important insights into the types of knowledge and evidence that become meaningful in this context, and why.

CPPs operate in a context of continual change. Evidence is used in community planning for many reasons, but the focus is increasingly on the need to target and prioritise resources in situations characterised by financial constraints and pressures.

Statistical tools that claim to provide a more reliable source of evidence will have limited impact on public service reform without understanding and respecting the types of knowledge that are valued in day-to-day work and the ways in which different forms of knowledge and evidence interact.

Evidence use in community planning is a craft that involves valuing and interweaving different forms of evidence and knowledge together – recognising that evidence becomes meaningful through communication. The problem in everyday policy making is not normally a lack of evidence, or even its variable quality, but how existing evidence is communicated and the extent to which there is an opportunity for collective learning and informed judgement.

Key findings

  • Strategic managers and policy makers need to value and recognise the knowledge of those operating at the front line.
  • Statistical data on poverty and inequality can be highly emotive and can alienate local people if not communicated sensitively.
  • If evidence is to be meaningful it needs to be interpreted and contextualised. There is a skill for service providers in ‘speaking the right evidence language’ in the right context.
  • Stable collaborative relationships are needed for effective evidence sharing across services. It is important to avoid over-burdening members of staff with too much evidence and focus on the evidence that is useful in their working contexts.
  • Community planning processes need to provide more opportunities for engaging with different types of evidence and knowledge.
  • Aristotle’s three types of knowledge (see diagram above) are relevant to the types of evidence and knowledge that are useful and valuable in community planning: empirical knowledge drawn from sources such as quantitative and qualitative research; craft knowledge based on practical experience; and practical wisdom – considered judgements on alternatives for practical action underpinned by values and ethics.
  • A desirable Scottish approach to evidence in public policy entails integrating empirical evidence, craft knowledge and practical wisdom in a way that recognises the value of all three.

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Authors: Drs Claire Bynner and Anna Terje, University of Glasgow

Date of publication: September 2018

Publication type: Discussion paper

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