International Advisory Group (IAG) Seminars

 Social Science Evidence and the Policy Process:

International Insights



Organisational Support

Contributors & Participants



  1. Competing for policy influence: the ups and downs of social science evidence
  2. Active ageing, ageing well and intergenerational solidarity: using and abusing the evidence base
  3. Promoting healthy living: use, harms and hazards of drugs, alcohol, sugar and fat
  4. Understanding and improving skills: lessons about effectiveness
  5. How evidence is made to work for policy: lessons learned from the series

Professional Briefings Issue 4 – Complete Papers from the Seminar Series

Introduction to the Seminar Series

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The Academy’s International Advisory Group was established in 2011 to advise Council on a co-ordinated strategy for developing its international profile. In addition to making recommendations to Council on internationalising membership and enhancing awareness of the Academy’s mission internationally, the IAG proposed to foster and develop opportunities for international social science research through work on international standards, training programmes for international careers, international research collaboration and international researcher mobility.

The proposal for a series of seminars exploring the value and potential transferability of international insights into ‘Social Science Evidence and the Policy Process’ was a response to the heightened interest being shown by governments at national and international level in evidence-based policy in the context of economic recession, the need to reduce public spending by achieving greater policy effectiveness and the search for sustainable solutions to economic and social problems.

To download pdf copies of Professional Briefings for each seminar, visit the Publications page of this website.

The international dimension of evidence-based policy deserves more attention

In formally launching the ‘What Works Centres for Social Policy in 2013’, the UK Government committed ‘to gather all existing research on relevant policy interventions, from the UK and internationally and to evaluate [it] in a consistent way based on the quality of the evidence and the effectiveness and applicability of the interventions’ [our underlining] (Cabinet Office, 2013, p.6). While the IAG’s decision to run a seminar series on international insights predated the official announcement of the What Works Centres, the Group’s members were aware that the international dimension of the evidence base for policy is too often overlooked by policy makers in the UK, except when such evidence is gathered from English-speaking countries. Even then, insufficient attention is generally paid to the socio-cultural factors that would help analysts to understand why a particular policy measure worked or did not work, and why it might or might not be transportable to a different policy environment.

The Seminar Series aims to show how international insights from abroad can be used most effectively

The IAG series of seminars is exploring innovative approaches to effective use of social science evidence in policy making in different countries, policy settings and domains, and is considering the conditions under which these models could be transferred cross-nationally. Accordingly, the aims of the series are:

    • To conduct a critical appraisal of the relationship between research evidence and the policy process;
    • To gather insights from international innovations in the use of social science research evidence in the development, implementation and evaluation of policy;
    • Specifically, to explore the kinds of capacity building required within and across the research and policy-making communities in order to develop a community of practice and an evidence-oriented culture;
    • To assess the advantages and drawbacks of applying particular methodologies, such as RCTs, in developing, implementing and evaluating policy in different policy settings and domains;
    • To identify the potential for policy learning across countries through analysis of what works, and why, in different policy and societal contexts;
    • To assess under what conditions innovative policies and policy evaluation techniques in other countries could be transferred to the UK;
    • To publish and present findings from the seminars in web papers, academic and practitioner journals, and policy briefs;
    • To contribute to capacity building by providing bespoke end-user workshops on relevant topics.

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Organisational Support for the Seminar Series

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Routledgekogowebv2SRA logoBL logoSPA logoSAGElogoLSE logoAUE logoCIS logoDFE logoEU logo


The Academy of Social Sciences’ International Advisory Group, in conjunction with two of its learned societies (the Social Policy Association and Social Research Association), is being partnered by the Alliance for Useful Evidence, the Department for Education, and LSE’s Centre for International Studies.

Financial support is being provided by Nesta, Routledge/Taylor & Francis and SAGE.

Venues have been offered free of charge in London by Nesta, Europe House, the British Library and Department for Education.


Contributors and participants

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Contributors to the seminars are drawn from a wide range of national and international organisations. Participants include representatives from UK national and local government departments, policy advisers, researchers from both academic and non-academic institutions, think tanks and media/journalists.

Seminar Themes

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Three core issues in the relationship between evidence and policy underpin the series and are framing the presentations and discussions, namely:

  1. Who are the key intermediaries/brokers helping to translate evidence into policy? How do they function? Who are their audiences? What is their impact? What are the implications of their growth for the research profession?
  2. Which kinds of evidence carry weight and have the greatest impact? How do social scientists and policy makers rank evidence? Do they value different hierarchies and combinations of evidence? How can evidence based on different types of data be used to maximum effect?
  3. How is the evaluation of evidence used to assess the effects of policies or programmes? How can any differences in approaches to the use of evidence by researchers and policy makers be reconciled? 


Seminar Programme

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The first seminar provided a framework for the series, with speakers introducing and illustrating these transversal ‘themes’ in the evidence/policy relationship.

In seminars 2, 3 and 4, invited speakers are addressing specific topics in key areas of evidence-based policy from an international and multidisciplinary perspective, namely: ageing and generations, healthy living, and education. They are drawing on the three core ‘themes’ in analysing the reasons why a particular policy was introduced, the conditions under which it did (or did not) work; the institutional capacity needed to support policy innovation and scrutiny; how the policy’s effectiveness was assessed; and under what conditions such a policy might be applied in the UK.

The final seminar draws out the lessons learned from the series. 


Seminar 1 Competing for policy influence: the ups and downs of social science evidence

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Conveners: Chris Caswill and Ashley Lenihan

Venue and date: Nesta, 17 October 2013, 13.00-17.30

Click here to visit the event report page for Seminar 1

This seminar explored the core themes of knowledge intermediaries, hierarchies of impact, evaluation and time horizons. The presentations examined the contributions of social science evidence, the ways in which they are shaped by policy contexts, and the alternative sources of advice and information which influence policy outcomes. The aim was to raise issues for subsequent seminars and to identify the conditions under which social science evidence can be applied in different contexts. 


Seminar 2 Active ageing, ageing well and intergenerational solidarity: using and abusing the evidence base

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Conveners: Julia Brannen and Linda Hantrais

Venue and date: Europe House, 14 November 2013, 13.00-17.30

Click here to visit the event report page for Seminar 2

This seminar examined the evidence base underpinning policies formulated at EU level and within their member states to promote active ageing, ageing well, and intergenerational solidarity. It looked at the conditions under which such policies might be implemented in the UK. The invited speakers demonstrated why selected policies worked (or did not work) with reference to policy brokers, the type of evidence evoked and how policy impact was assessed.


Seminar 3 Promoting healthy living: use, harms and hazards of drugs, alcohol, sugar and fat

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Convener: Susanne MacGregor

Venue and date: British Library, 16 December 2013, 13.00-17.30

Click here to visit the event report page for Seminar 3

This seminar focused on two key lifestyle issues contributing to the overall burden of disease nationally and internationally: patterns of consumption of food, psychoactive drugs and alcohol. The seminar discussed the design and implementation of policies aiming to influence patterns of behaviour, with the objective of reducing adverse health consequences such as obesity, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, CHD and liver cirrhosis. Participants consider how far policies effective in reducing consumption of tobacco might be applied to alcohol or drugs; how far fiscal policies such as minimum alcohol pricing might be applied to foods with high fat or sugar content; and whether institutional arrangements effective in linking evidence to policy in the field of illegal drugs might be extended to alcohol. 


Seminar 4 Understanding and improving skills: lessons about effectiveness

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Conveners: Tom Schuller with Emily Knowles

Venue and date: Department for Education, 12 February 2014, 13.00-17.30

The OECD’s work on skills has recently been amplified by their first Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). The Survey’s first results appeared in October 2013 covering 24 countries or regions. This major work is now being used by the OECD and by national authorities to shed new insights on national skills systems and their effectiveness, and provided an opportunity to examine the impact of new international evidence on policy makers and the wider community. This seminar examined new ways of designing and managing the production and use of international evidence across different countries, with particular reference to the OECD Skills Strategy.

Click here to visit the event report page for Seminar 4


Seminar 5 How evidence is made to work for policy: lessons learned from the series

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Conveners: Julia Brannen, Chris Caswill, Linda Hantrais, Ashley Lenihan, Susanne MacGregor, Tom Schuller

Venue and date: Europe House, 4 April 2014, 13.00-17.30

The final seminar, which took the form of a dissemination event, drew on international insights to provide a critical overview of findings from the series and to illustrate the lessons learned about how evidence can be made to work for policy.

Click here to visit the event report page for Seminar 5