Outcome Reporting Bias in Government Sponsored Policy Evaluations: A Qualitative Content Analysis of 13 Studies – PLoS One

ABSTRACT

The reporting of evaluation outcomes can be a point of contention between evaluators and policy-makers when a given reform fails to fulfil its promises. Whereas evaluators are required to report outcomes in full, policy-makers have a vested interest in framing these outcomes in a positive light–especially when they previously expressed a commitment to the reform. The current evidence base is limited to a survey of policy evaluators, a study on reporting bias in education research and several studies investigating the influence of industry sponsorship on the reporting of clinical trials. The objective of this study was twofold. Firstly, it aimed to assess the risk of outcome reporting bias (ORB or ‘spin’) in pilot evaluation reports, using seven indicators developed by clinicians. Secondly, it sought to examine how the government’s commitment to a given reform may affect the level of ORB found in the corresponding evaluation report. To answer these questions, 13 evaluation reports were content-analysed, all of which found a non-significant effect of the intervention on its stated primary outcome. These reports were systematically selected from a dataset of 233 pilot and experimental evaluations spanning three policy areas and 13 years of government-commissioned research in the UK. The results show that the risk of ORB is real. Indeed, all studies reviewed here resorted to at least one of the presentational strategies associated with a risk of spin. This study also found a small, negative association between the seniority of the reform’s champion and the risk of ORB in the evaluation of that reform. The publication of protocols and the use of reporting guidelines are recommended.

SOURCE: Wicherts, Jelte M. and Vaganay, Arnaud (2016) Outcome reporting bias in government-sponsored policy evaluations: a qualitative content analysis of 13 Studies. PLOS ONE, 11 (9).

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