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Knowledge For Use [K4U]: Making the Most of Social Science to Build Better Policies

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - K4U (Knowledge For Use [K4U]: Making the Most of Social Science to Build Better Policies)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

RESEARCH QUESTION
The project K4U aims to construct a radically new picture of how to use social science to build better social policies and to make better policy decisions.
The project focuses on knowledge production: encouraging high quality studies and vetting them.
Little attention goes to knowledge use: how is social science knowledge to be used in policy design and deliberation.

IMPORTANT FOR SOCIETY
The project will show how to use research for better social policies with better outcomes, as committed by UE with Horizon 2020 societal challenges policy.
K4U will provide not just a theoretical but a practical understanding for policy makers in having respect of the social science research results during their activity.
The project aims also to create a new kind of knowledge, in order to be better understood by policy makers and to be combined with other competencies or elements considered for policy making.
The research team in the academic network involved is interdisciplinary for guarantee a good approach to a practice-oriented philosophy, which needs to be done in cooperation with other disciplines, especially where abstract philosophical positions are to be judged by what they amount to in the concrete.

OVERALL OBJECTIVES
K4U’s overall objectives are to develop in tandem methods:
• for using social science to build better social policies
• and for making better decisions about what to do,
and with this exemplary study,
• to provide a model for the philosophy of science in practice,
• to initiate the philosophy of social technology,
• and to provide breakthroughs in philosophy of science on questions involving causality, evidence, objectivity and values in science, where ‘better social policy decisions’ means decisions in which policy outcomes are more effective and more reliably predictable and competing values and points of view are respected in policy choice and implementation.
1.1.1 Overview

K4U is progressing well at mid-point, with a fully mobilised and engaged team working hard on the range of complex and intersecting themes outlined in the Description of the action. The project is generating outputs, some of which are high-profile, and making external impact. We have been driving forward and continue to push on a number of sub-projects which are taking K4U research outputs into the realms of practitioner communities in diverse areas such as: child protection, social work, international development, a UK “What Works” centre and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). The majority of the six K4U case studies are well underway resulting in a considerable flow of philosophical ideas between each case study and the wider project.
In terms of the ‘Points of Attack’ outlined in the Description of the action, we have made good headway in work around ‘assembling policy proposals’ and ‘collecting the right evidence’; some progress around ‘putting together what we know’ and ‘deliberating what to do’; and less progress, and therefore still need to push on with: ‘knowing if you are successful’ and ‘ensuring sustainability’.

As planned, in Year 1, within the Building Social Policies Work Stream (WS1), we engaged with The Durham Institute of Advanced Studies’ theme on evidence, with K4U team members participating in particular in the sub-themes: ‘Evidence Synthesis by Building a Case’; ‘Talking Therapies: Evidence and Evaluation’; and ‘Cutting-edge Computation and Scientific Evidence’. We also made good progress on ‘warrant for singular causal claims’. Work on ‘frameworks for synthesis by building a case’ was more difficult than foreseen and is lagging behind as a result.

In Year 2 the Deliberating Policy Work Stream (WS2) was launched as planned and a very great deal work has been done on ‘understanding the underlying structure’ (about which we will say more later). Progress has also been made on the ‘role of theory’, especially in Cartwright’s work with Angus Deaton (see, for instance, Deaton and Cartwright, ‘Understanding and Misunderstanding Randomized Controlled Trials’ – CHESS Working Paper 2016-05 and 2017 article in Social Science& Medicine, listed in publications section of this report) and her work in the UK Department for International Development’s Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning (CEDIL). ‘Narratives’, however, have not proved to be nearly as useful a tool as we had expected so they have played little role in helping us progress. (We note that Mary Morgan has a big project funded by you specifically devoted to narratives so we will watch for ideas from that project to see if they can help us with ours.) Work on ‘conceptions of objectivity’ was moved forward in the project and good progress is being made. The biannual Philosophy of Science Association Meeting (dissemination/outputs list 3 Nov 2016) was used to effect, again as planned.
As previously reported, commencement of work on Case Study 6 (Climate Services) was delayed due to maternity leave, and Case Study 1 (Mental Health) was slightly delayed due to difficulties in agreeing the scope of K4U engagement with the Greater Manchester project team but is now on track. The studentships and other case studies are going, or are about to go, ahead in accordance with the original schedule. The compilation of a ‘pamphlet-style’ advice guide, planned for Year 5, was brought forward, and completed, in part by the desire to publish Improving Child Safety (publications list, 2017) before the new What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care (SCIE) was launched in hopes of K4U ideas influencing it.
In the remainder of this section we provide details on the progress for each of the main anticipated outcomes, research themes and emerging concepts of the project as well as reporting on progress within the two work streams and each of the six case studies.

1.1.2 Progress against ‘projected research and its outcomes’

At the outset we outlined a specific outcome of providing a theoretical and practical understanding for users. We also originally set out some research objectives. A summary of our progress against each of these outcomes is described below and also in our response to question 1.4 in relation to knowledge transfer.

1.1.2.1 ‘Developing methods for building social policies’

Eileen Munro is doing this right now in her work with the Irish Government to introduce “Signs of Safety” as a national programme. The Signs of Safety programme has changed and expanded its Irish application due in part to Munro’s research on systems thinking for social planning that has been done with K4U support. In a separate sub-project, Julian Reiss and Nancy Cartwright have been engaging with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at the UK MoD through a series of meetings. K4U’s work on evidence is helping DSTL develop better policies. As part of this engagement, in March 2017 we hosted an inter-disciplinary workshop at Durham between DSTL representatives and academics.

1.1.2.2 ‘Developing methods for making better decisions about what we do’

We have made good headway with the research for, and publication of, Improving Child Safety, an attractive and (we believe) easily readable and intelligible book of 175 pages, intended for people who participate in decisions about child protection, from front-line social workers to those who organise local and national child protection services. This has also been an ongoing topic at regular meeting of the research group at the LSE.

1.1.2.3 ‘Providing a model for the Philosophy of Science in practice’

We have again made good headway with a number of initiatives. In the first year of the project we co-hosted a workshop series entitled ‘Talking Therapies’ at which academics and practitioners from the field of mental health together explored the use evidence-based pathways for improving work and wellbeing. In the same year we co-hosted another workshop series on ‘Evidence Synthesis by Building a Case’ in which several secondary education professionals participated. Within a few months of project commencement we established a project website as a key dissemination tool for interested parties, both current and prospective.
In June 2017 we initiated an ‘Improving Child Safety Working Group’ with three subsequent meetings between members of K4U and middle and senior managers from several UK north-eastern authority Children’s Social Care departments. Discussions have been structured around topics raised by them as areas where research and knowledge are problematic and are helping the team to improve their understanding of how their work meets the needs of those providing child protection services. The meetings of this group are continuing. (see Testimonial Letter from Paul Pearce of DSTL at the end of this section – PDF available on request)

Julian Reiss’s work on evidence has shaped the so-called ‘Evidence Framework Approach’ (EFA), a decision tool used by the UK MoD. The EFA describes practical ways to use evidence and improve its analytical quality to support procurement and other decisions made by the MoD.

1.1.2.4 ‘Initiating the Philosophy of Social Technology’

This has been a special focus for Cartwright herself, who has been arguing the importance of a philosophy of social technology in conferences, lectures and papers. Building on her previous work in this area, including her 2015 Dewey Lecture (‘Philosophy of Social Technology: Get on Board’), now published and her lecture at the Society for Applied Philosophy Conference in July 2015 (‘The Philosophy of Social Technology: Making the Most of Social Science to Build Better Policies’), Cartwright advanced the argument via her subsequent Sir Malcolm Knox Memorial Lecture at the University of St Andrew’s (‘Scientific generalisations: What's so good about missing out all the differences?’). A call for the philosophy of social technology also figured prominently in: Cartwright’s December 2016 talk at the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds, ‘Nature the artful modeller: Truth, Know-how & the laws of Nature’; her April 2017 Carus lectures (CARUS 2017) at the American Philosophical Association; ‘Nature the artful modeller’ and in her September 2017 talk at the Inaugural Conference of the Centre for PPE in Groningen, Netherlands, ‘Towards a philosophy of social technology’. We are now seeing success in print from this work – see for instance: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0039368117303096

1.1.2.5 ‘Providing breakthroughs on questions involving causality, evidence, objectivity and values in science’

We have delivered and produced numerous talks and publications covering these four areas, not least, Improving Child Safety which covers all four, and also, Cartwright’s CARUS 2017 Lectures which also covers all four areas. K4U Working Papers, self-published through CHESS, also address key questions in each of the four categories.

1.1.3 ‘Building Social Policies’ Work Stream (WS1)

1.1.3.1 Systems Work

One central advance so far in terms of investigating what forms of knowledge need to be created to tackle societal challenges has been on ‘understanding the underlying system’. This has proved to be an extremely central and fruitful research topic that turns out to be important in almost all of our research areas and case studies.

Understanding the underlying system is at the core of Eileen Munro’s work (Case Study 1). In particular: Munro’s chapter (in press): ‘Re-designing organisations to facilitate rights-based practice in child protection’ (in Falch-Eriksen, A. & Backe-Hansen, E. (eds.), Child Protection and Human Rights: Implementing the CRC in policy and practice) since it digs into how the system helps or hinders the realisation of children’s rights. Her article (in press) ‘Decision making under uncertainty in child protection: creating a just and learning culture’ in Child & Family Social Work also address causal processes that influence the reasoning and actions of individuals.

In her Signs of Safety work with ten local authorities in England and in the Republic of Ireland, Munro has run staff surveys that measured organisational culture using the Safety Attitudes Questionnaire from aviation and gathered qualitative data from open-ended questions. These brought out some causal factors that are positive contributions and others that are obstacles to reform in moving from a predominantly compliance-with-procedures system to a respectful engagement with families, helping them find solutions. Much of the discussion is on ways to improve, or impediments to improving, local arrangements to help make social workers' work more effective.

Cartwright’s K4U research, in tandem with Hakan Seckinelgin (Case Study 2), has developed a distinction between the ‘intervention-centred’ and the ‘context-centred’ approaches to evidenced-based policy and a series of arguments stressing the need for more investment in the ‘context-centred’, where context-centring is a ‘systems’ approach. Seckinelgin’s work is looking at how international policy advice (on HIV and AIDS) that is based on generalizable decontextualized knowledge is recontextualized when the advice is given for specific policy concerns in different countries. The interest here is about the way in which recontextualization of general knowledge works through the norms and values within which the policy is supposed to function. One of the actors in this process is the researcher who produces the knowledge for policy use in the first place. Their role in participating in processes of creating generalizable knowledge for policy use was the subject of our workshop at the LSE in June 2017.
Reconfiguring Local Health Economies (Case Study 4) is a study of the systems changes involved in a health service reconfiguration. Here we have been taking a realist perspective, speculating on the shifting forms of knowledge that inform policy deliberation and so what forms of knowledge can hold sway in complex systems and contexts of austerity.

In relation to the Occupational Health Case Study (Case Study 5), we use a ‘carescapes/caringscapes’ framework to examine the issue of low-paid female workers evading care policy solutions and forming their own care economies. Here we are seeking to understand what is lacking in current care policy and its formation. In so doing, we will examine what types of evidence can be used to build policies that are actually helpful and used by both employers and employees. This knowledge must come from individuals, unions and employers, rather than from the ‘scrap heap’ of previous policies.

In the Mental Health Case Study (Case Study 3), we are looking at the effectiveness of a systems’ change in Greater Manchester’s social welfare policy, which unifies the concomitant treatment of problems of mental ill-health and unemployment.
Following Alison Wylie being unable to continue her involvement in the project, we were able to increase the involvement of Anna Marmodoro to help with our systems work. Marmodoro has contributed directly to one of the main objectives of the project, by working on the study of existing accounts of causality and developing a novel one that reduces causation to the exercise of causal powers in complex systems. Her work has been supported by two part-time research assistants.
In the 2017-8 academic year we co-sponsored workshops with Durham’s Institute of Advanced Studies on ‘Structure’ to explore better methods of understanding how the underlying system influences outcomes. First, the role of context and how distinctive environments shape and inform rational action calls into question the generalizability and scalability of Randomised Controlled Trials to other environments. Second, the role of context within care ecologies also suggests that structures are best interpreted as dynamic wholes. Individuals dynamically interact with the resources and services of a whole care ecology, which suggests that static or piecemeal analysis fails to fully capture the different formal and informal roles interactive parts potentially play. Third, the role of complex structures which build in institutions, cities and nation-states suggest that some structures may be usefully identified as ‘super organisms’ which constitute a form of structure. This approach emphasises that human social organisations are not just composed of people, but also include technological/environmental components.

1.1.3.2 What kinds of evidence are needed?

The paper ‘Understanding and Misunderstanding Randomized Controlled Trials’ was published by Nancy Cartwright with Nobel-prize-winning economist Angus Deaton in the journal Social Science & Medicine (SSM) [ DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.12.005]. This paper has had a great deal of discussion. There were 18 commentaries on it published together in SSM and 131 citations as of 21 June 2018, plus extensive informal comments and blogs on earlier versions published by the (US) National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 22595, and as a K4U Discussion Paper, CHESS Working Paper No. 2016-05.

1.1.3.3 Synthesising

We are as envisaged working on developing proposals for synthesising evidence and we have made some headway both in our theoretical and in our practical work. On the theoretical side:
• Cartwright has developed the idea of a SCEM – a situation-specific causal equation model – as a way to represent the causal possibilities in a situation. Evidence for a cause-effect relation can then be related to warrant for different parts of the model. This makes visible
the role that each p