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‘Black magic’ and ‘gold dust’: The epistemic and political uses of ‘evidence tools’ in public health policy-making

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    Rights statement: This is a post-peer-review, pre-copy edited version of an article published in Evidence and Policy. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Stewart, E., & Smith, K. (2015). ‘Black magic’ and ‘gold dust’: The epistemic and political uses of ‘evidence tools’ in public health policy-making. Evidence and Policy, 11(3), 415-437. is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/174426415X14381786400158

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-437
Number of pages23
JournalEvidence and Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2015


Concerns about the limited influence of research on decision-making have prompted the development of tools intended to mediate evidence for policy audiences. This article focuses on three examples, prominent in public health: impact assessments; systematic reviews; and economic decision-making tools (cost-benefit analysis and scenario modelling). Each has been promoted as a means of synthesising evidence for policymakers but little is known about policy actors’ experiences of them. Employing a literature review and 69 interviews, we offer a critical analysis of their role in policy debates, arguing that their utility lies primarily in their symbolic value as markers of ‘good’ decision-making.

    Research areas

  • impact assessments, systematic review, cost-benefit analysis (CBA), modelling, evidence-based policy (EBP), advocacy, decision-making tools, public health

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