What counts as good evidence?

This paper, written by Sandra Nutley, Alison Powell and Huw Davies for the Alliance for Useful Evidence, discusses the risks of using a hierarchy of evidence and suggests an alternative in which more complex matrix approaches for identifying evidence quality are more closely linked to the wider range of policy or practice questions being addressed. The paper concludes by arguing that there is no simple answer to what constitutes good evidence and that setting standards will not overcome the the many specific contexts in which evidence is gathered and used. 


"Making better use of evidence is essential if public services are to deliver more for less. Central to this challenge is the need for a clearer understanding about standards of evidence that can be applied to the research informing social policy. This paper reviews the extent to which it is possible to reach a workable consensus on ways of identifying and labelling evidence. It does this by exploring the efforts made to date and the debates that have ensued. Throughout, the focus is on evidence that is underpinned by research, rather than other sources of evidence such as expert opinion or stakeholder views."


  • Setting the scene 5
  • Practice Recommendations 8
  • Hierarchies of evidence 10
  • Beyond hierarchies? 15
  • Strong evidence or good enough evidence? 18
  • The use and impact of standards of evidence and endorsing Practices 20
  • Conclusions and Ways Forward 24
  • Annex 1: Examples of standards of evidence schemes 28
  • Annex 2: Standards of evidence developed by the social Research unit at Dartington 31
  • Annex 3: Including five types of knowledge in systematic research reviews in social care (extract From Reutter et al., 2010, PP 17–19) 36


Sandra Nutley, Alison Powell and Huw Davies (2013). What counts as good evidence? Alliance for Useful Evidence. Retrieved from: http://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/assets/What-Counts-as-Good-Evidence-WEB.pdf

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