Article

Evidence is a policymaker’s biggest weapon

What is public policy for?
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Policy failure Evidence-based policy Policy analysis Policy
Description

Fundamentally, public policy is supposed to address serious social problems. However, poorly designed policies exist. Often this happens when a well-intentioned policy generates unexpected and unintended consequences, and sometimes, these consequences leave policy-makers farther away from their goal than when they started.

Consider just a few examples.

The first is the impact of an immigration law that was used in the United States ostensibly to control the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country. The controversial bill imposes extreme restrictions on undocumented immigrants in the state of Alabama and limits every aspect of immigrants’ lives.

By employing a synthetic control methodology, the bill proved to have a substantial and negative unintended effect – an increase in violent crimes. This could be linked back to the bill because while violent crime increased, property crime did not.

This may be because the passage of one of the country’s strictest anti-immigration laws signalled to the community that the system had more tolerance for discrimination against undocumented immigrants in Alabama, fuelling distrust and eventually violent conflict.

This is not a freak event either. Policy-makers know that enacting laws doesn’t just change the wording of legislation. It shapes social norms, prescribes attitudes, and affects community behaviour. Of course, this is also why good policy-making can be so productive.

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