'Better than nothing' policies leave us uninformed: study

THE burying of policy evaluations that do not suit political intentions has made it impossible to know which policies work and which do not, a University of Melbourne academic has warned.

Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark of the university's Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has written a paper showing governments of all stripes were making policy decisions on incomplete information.

The study revealed that governments often consider "better than nothing" policies pass as "good enough" for Australians, "leaving us as uninformed as ever, despite having spent millions of dollars on the evaluation" of policy.

Prof Cobb-Clark's paper assessed the quality of policy evaluations both the commonwealth and state governments had paid for.

It found the current evaluation of policies at both the federal and state level was producing "poor-quality evaluations that, in the end, do not tell us much".

"The current lack of a willingness to commit to the publication of results has meant that Australian academics are increasingly disengaged from evaluations of major economic and social initiatives," Prof Cobb-Clark said.

"This can lead to poor policy."

She said it was also critical to ensure all policy evaluations were completely independent of government and the political process.

"Unlike medical trials, which must be registered, the results of economic and social policy evaluations are often buried when they do not suit politicians or policymakers," Prof Cobb-Clark said.

"This makes it impossible to know what works and what does not."

Prof Cobb-Clark called on all government to reveal every evaluation of its policies to the public, as a matter of course.

"All evaluations conducted by or commissioned through the government should be published externally, perhaps with a short embargo period for journalists and stakeholders to consider the findings," she said.


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