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‘Incontrovertible Evidence’

Comparing Standards of Evidence for Assessing Public Service Performance

Many different kinds of evidence are used to judge the performance of public service organisations, including administrative statistics, surveys of user satisfaction and the professional opinions of auditors and inspectors. What happens when different pieces of performance information point in opposite directions? And what standard of evidence is used when such information is used as the basis of administrative action, for example in ‘naming and shaming’ reports or for rewards and sanctions? When administrative measures show performance is improving but survey data shows declining satisfaction, or vice-versa, what should be done? 

This fellowship covers several domains of public services’, particularly services provided by local government, to identify the standards of evidence used to assess performance, the theories they reflect, and explore how they could be improved. The issues have potentially wide relevance, for example dentists faced with malpractice proceedings are judged using a civil standard of evidence, while doctors are usually subject to a higher criminal standard of evidence (the standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’).

What the research means for policymakers and the wider community

Research methods 

Research details

The project, ‘Standards of evidence for assessing public service performance’, runs from October 2007 to January 2009.

Research Team

Oliver James (University of Exeter)

Oliver James is a Reader in Politics at the University of Exeter where he teaches on the Public Administration and Public Policy MA Programme. His research interests include public sector organization and reform, and the theory and practice of regulation, particularly regulation of the public sector. He has acted as a consultant to bodies including the World Bank, OECD, UK Treasury, UK National Audit Office and UK Audit Commission. He acts as UK representative in the EU COST network ‘Comparative Research on Current Trends in Public Sector Organisations’. Dr James will be a visiting fellow at the Centre for Local and Regional Government at the University of Cardiff during the course of the project.