Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Mark Monaghan

The Turmoil of Evidence: the case of UK drug classification

This thesis explores the complex relationship between evidence and policy-making in a politicised policy area. It suggests that in such policy areas, the relationship is often contextualised on a linear model, zero-sum basis whereby policies are either wholly evidence-based or not depending on what the case may be.

This is so because politicised policy areas are typically sensationalised in the media and academic discourse and are characterised by conflict between partisan perspectives each trying to influence the policy agenda in their favour. UK drug classification represents a good example.

Based on a number of 'elite' interviews and documentary analysis of evidence presented to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (2002) and the Science and Technology Committee (2006), it is suggested that the evidence and policy relationship is much more nuanced.

Other models of research utilisation, including the embryonic evolutionary model (Stevens 2007), are utilised to shed light into this murky area of public policy. It is claimed that, where drug policy is concerned, the idea of an 'evidence-base' is misleading.

Reflecting the 'muddling through' approach by government of policy-making in this area, there is actually a plurality of evidence used in the debate. This does not necessarily have a significant influence on policy outcomes but is a key aspect of the policy process.

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