Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full? : The Use of Policy Evaluations in the Dutch Higher Education and Participation Policy

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As the evidence-based policymaking (EBPM) movement grew in the last few decades, public policymakers increasingly have claimed their policies to be based on scientific evidence as opposed to policies based on ideology or opportunism. Parallel to this movement, an academic debate occurred between the EBPM-, the pessimistic- and the “factor-affecting” approach about when and how policymakers use evaluations. However, as research primarily has focused on evaluation use in public health and environmental policy, we know relatively little about social policies informed by the social sciences. Therefore, this thesis analyzes the Dutch higher education and participation policy of cabinet Rutte III (2017-2021). This study identifies how and when policymakers use evaluations through interviews and a content and discourse analysis of policy documents. Unlike many studies that approach evaluation use as a single binary variable, this thesis adopts the instrumental, conceptual, and symbolic categories of evaluation use to include the indirect impact and political function that evaluations may fulfill. This study concludes that evaluation use can be seen as a half-empty or a half-full glass. A half-empty glass as the pessimistic approach is the most accurate viewpoint to explain evaluation use. Policymakers cherry-pick, exaggerate, distort, and search for evidence to justify their pre-determined political goals. A half-full glass as policymaker use evaluations to genuinely impact people’s lives positively. This inquiry helps citizens better comprehend the limitations of social science research and how policies come about, and it provides practical guidance to develop a well-informed political opinion about the responsibilities of policy actors.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen