Show me the evidence!

George and Dave may still be intent on showing us the money but I say “show me the evidence!”

In the last decade, with almost global access (and input into) the internet and its many web-based resources, we have moved towards (and continue to move towards) a culture and society based on evidence.

In the 21st Century it would be impossible for the writers of Chariots of Fire (to pick one small example) to get away with the number of historical inaccuracies it contains and which probably allow it to be a ‘better story’.  Any real-life drama can be checked against documentary evidence and if it ignores the truth then there will be a backlash (Argo/Ben Affleck).

There should be little room then, you would think, for woolly, opinion based, emotional policies and decisions in business and politics.

Alas no.  Whilst we increasingly demand that our friends and colleagues back up their casual assertions with ‘proofs’ (often drawn from that miracle of the modern world Wikipedia), we do not seem to put the same onus on government when it comes to policy.

Why not?

Well, I would put forward (the only semi-evidence based) opinion that successive UK governments have failed to see the increasing importance of data gathering if they are to create policies that address (and utilise) the increasing complexities of the world we live in.

SIC codes (Standard Industrial Classification) which the government uses to analyse growth in different areas of the economy have not been significantly revised since the 1940s.  How can you know which sectors to prioritise and where government investment and incentives should go for maximum effect – if you don’t have an accurate picture of what’s going on?

Health data is currently inadequate to the task of needs based commissioning.  And yet if we were able to implement commissioning based on what was needed now and looking at evidence based trends for the future we could probably achieve massive efficiency savings for the NHS.  The catastrophic and expensive failure of the NHS National Programme for IT is helping to hold progress back.  Everyone is scared of making another massive mistake.  And yet we now have technology that is more connectable and work could be done at least at local level to redress the data gap.

I’m happy to admit that I don’t have any hard evidence or data to support my hunch that not having the right data might actually be useful to politicians.  An incomplete picture is more capable of interpretation than a complete one.

Gathering data is a tedious business, for those who set out to do so.  And for us, the public, endlessly filling out monitoring forms and surveys. But I think we must bit the bullet and ask for MORE!

I’m not advocating a Big Brother exercise here.  The data can be anonymous and/or anonymised.  Before we challenge the right of government to ask for more details – to help it plan better our services, economic growth and the governance of the country – we might stop and think about the data we regularly give away for a free to purely commercial organisations – such as supermarkets and marketeers – just in return for a few pence off our shopping or a free gift opportunity.

We must demand and encourage proper evidence based spending by our councils and CCGs.  They should be pulling data from all available sources – understanding it through a ‘sticky note’ process of querying it with those putting it together and using it to commit our limited resources, whether manpower or budget, to the areas that have greatest need and greatest benefit.

We must have an economic programme that places emphasis on sectors of the economy according to their proportionate value to the future prosperity of the country – not based on an emotional attachment to one type of business or another – manufacturing giving way to financial services as the favoured child – whilst creative industries – as profitable to the GDP as finance – fights on despite lack of real government investment.

You rarely here any pundit – even a creative one – complaining that the creative industries will up-sticks and leave the UK due to some new economic policy produced by the Government and yet were they do to so the impact would be enormous.  Even the so called ‘subsidised’ sector might be better called ‘not for profit’ – and even then often turns a profit through other spin off vehicles.  Those ‘subsidies’ and ‘grants’ should be seen as investments – ones that often produce a good financial return directly to the tax-payer and where they do not provide investment in the talent pool that the Creative Industries use to leverage billions of pounds of GDP.  Returns on tax payer investment in the arts are often greater in terms of tax revenue than the original grant – can the same be said of our subsidised banks?

Sense about Science has an ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign – I think this should be broadened to all tax payer spending, all government planning and policy:

Ask for evidence from our council about why and how they are spending your money

Ask for evidence from your MP about the reasoning behind policies that affect you

Ask for evidence from government (and any political party you might vote into government) for their policies

And then check that evidence against what you know, and what you can find out – after all the evidence is out there waiting to be found.

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