Research Output

Contestable evidence based policy-the role of information sharing.

  There are three elements required for public policy to be both credible and effective. These
are not necessarily the factors that all parties would agree to, but provide a common ground
on which constructive disagreements can be founded.
The first is evidence based policy. Conviction politics may be very effective in an electoral
sense, but implementation requires substantiation and planning- preferable based on a
measure of reality. At the very least the requirement for some form of supportive evidence
and analysis is becoming one of the barriers to entry from interest groups. In complex areas
such as urban transport this is arguably becoming a necessity.
The second is contestable evidence based policy. This, unlike the previous form, is not always
welcomed or easy to secure the basis for. However the best means of neutralising evidence
based arguments is to simply produce your own. Inevitably it will be based on different
premises, use different data and include and prioretise different factors.The net effect is often to set both aside and quickly return to pure politics and making a choice between the two
‘expert’ and ‘independent’ sources is virtually impossible to establish. A very common
strategy – by both Or even all) sides – in planning debates involving transport. However the
key term contestable works its magic on this deadlock… if the different parties are using the
same data, and even the same models (if such are needed), then the debate can be joined on an
equal basis. It is no accident that access to models and data is not always available to all
parties. Just as Freedom of Information has become a dispirited and often fruitless route to
participation in meaningful debate, so too have various forms of intellectual property right
assertions become part of the armoury of Government – and his undermined the ability of
many community sectors to join in on equal terms.
The arguments are varied, from an assertion that data is a Government profit item, and so
unavailable to the people who paid for it, to arguments of confidentiality, real of supposed, to
debar critical items from any data supply.
The term contestable means imply that all parties can have equal access to the data and
information foundations for whatever is proposed.
Consequently, the third is making information accessible. This is no easy task. Transport,
planning – and especially urban transport of goods and people – is a very complex system and
even full access to the raw data would not help more than a few groups to undertake their own
analyses. However the implications of many transport and planning proposals are strongly
spatial, and so can be very effectively summarised in maps showing locations and impacts
and associated information in a digestable form The latter example is considerably more powerful than it looks. To secure complex data from
a government or other holder is not a straightforward process, converting it into a form that
one can analyse is often error prone and demands expertise, and undertaking analyses that are
summarised in thematic maps is another step upward on the learning (and software
acquisition) curve, demanding the ability to load into a Geographical information System or
some kind, access suitable spatial descriptions of the area concerned, and the skills to be able
to create appropriate thematic maps.
This accumulated list of requirements for software, funds and skills comprises a significant
barrier to access- even if the data could be secured from government, and of the end user on
the community could afford the fees often charged for public data..
However it is now possible to build data observatories or specialised knowledge bases where
the data is already loaded in, where analyses can be undertaken by end users over the web,
and where dynamic thematic maps can be made be available to interact with and explore on
line by anyone with internet access and a web browser. All these functions and more are
encapsulated a number of Knowledge Base Frameworks, one example of which is the
REORIENT Knowledge Base at Dynamic thematic maps are accessible
directly online (only a FLASH Client is needed on your computer to be able to see them) plus
many documents informing you about the information in the maps. There are many facilities
below the publicly available level (see including full data
analysis and map generation. Data Observatories offer another more introverted approach,
now gaining ground especially in the UK
The key relevance to transport governance is that this approach to making public data
available closes the loop between evidence based policy and the consultation processes
required to make governance structures workable for a wide swathe of the community.
The potential to make sensitive data available in this form (as it aggregates over sensitive
dimensions and this allows the implications of data to be shown that could not be built for the
basic raw data as it would not be made available at all in some cases, and in many cases for
good privacy and confidentiality reasons.
The existence and availability of such systems now means that the pressure in now on
Governments to provide similar systems of this type so that the community can actively
participate in the governance of transport. The information is usually complex and spatially
specific – and this form of access means that the balance between government, professional
and the broader community can be made more equitable, as the information witholding power
of government can be contested.
Recent work has explored these issues and demonstrated the links between contestable
evidence based policy, information and governance. Further development and communication
of these concepts was requested by the attendees, and thus this paper proposal to NECTAR as
this mechanism is an underused and under exploited strategic tool.

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    HE Transportation and Communications

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    388 Transportation; ground transportation


Wigan, M. (2007). Contestable evidence based policy-the role of information sharing



Transport planning; sustainability; governance; evidence-based policy; contestability;

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