Approaches to support the development of an evaluative culture to promote better drug policy for the future
Drug use, and the associated problems, is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, which is underpinned by a wide array of social and economic, genetic and epigenetic factors that can vary over time and place. Drug policy therefore has to be cross-cutting, adaptive and responsive to the needs of different groups, countries and stages of the life course. The importance of evidence-based or evidence-informed illicit drug policy is widely recognised but at the same time the evidence in this area is often highly contested and criticised as being weak in many areas. The complex nature of the field, the overlaps with other policy areas, the long-term nature of drug problems and the wide range of factors that may influence outcomes makes policy evaluation a challenging task. At the same time the experience of evaluations for many policy makers has been frustrating, with issues such as inconclusive or unactionable findings, and timeliness issues. While there is a huge literature and expertise available in the field of evaluation science, as well as manuals and websites with tools for policymakers, these issues persist in many areas. One possible reason for this is that evaluation is often seen as an add-on to the policy process, rather than an integral part of it. This session will highlight, through a range of case studies that incorporate sub-national, national and regional perspectives, the benefits of taking a realistic and flexible approach to supporting drug policy evaluation and of adopting a long-term focus on building an evaluative culture.