Original Research

Use of evidence in policy making in South Africa: An exploratory study of attitudes of senior government officials

Gemma Paine Cronin, Mastoera Sadan
African Evaluation Journal | Vol 3, No 1 | a145 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v3i1.145 | © 2015 Gemma Paine Cronin, Mastoera Sadan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 April 2015 | Published: 30 September 2015

About the author(s)

Gemma Paine Cronin, Organisation and Strategy Development, Design and Evaluation Services, South Africa
Mastoera Sadan, Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development, National Planning Commission, South Africa


This paper outlines a 2011 study commissioned by the Presidency’s Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD) which promotes evidence-based policy making (EBPM) in South Africa. EBPM refers to norms, initiatives and methods aimed at improving evidence-based policy in countries from which South Africa traditionally borrows public service reforms, particularly the UK and Canada. The study provides a descriptive snapshot of attitudes to evidence-use in policy making. All 54 senior government officials interviewed felt that evidence-use is too limited to ensure relevant, effective policy responses. This includes policies on which complex results depend and those with long-term and high-resource implications. Although all respondents regarded EBPM as self-evidently desirable, there were different views on practical application. Examples provided suggest that, where evidence was used, it was very often related to a borrowed international policy without a prior evidencedrivenanalysis of successes and failures or its relevance and feasibility in terms of local issuesand context. Policy makers generally know they should be making optimal use of availableevidence, but highlighted systemic barriers beyond the influence of individual managersto resolve. The study suggests that improved use of evidence throughout the policy cycle,particularly in analysing problems and needs, is a requirement for learning through evidencebased policy development. It suggests that political and administrative leadership will need to agree on norms, ways of dealing with the barriers to effective use of evidence and on the role of each throughout the policy cycle in ensuring appropriate evidence is available and used.


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