Pilot Projects for Evidence-Based Policy-Making: Three Pilot Projects in the Rhine Basin

By Vreugdenhil, Heleen; Rault, Philippe Ker | German Policy Studies, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Pilot Projects for Evidence-Based Policy-Making: Three Pilot Projects in the Rhine Basin


Vreugdenhil, Heleen, Rault, Philippe Ker, German Policy Studies


1 Introduction

Pilot projects are commonly applied instruments in diverse policy domains, including water management. They provide a space to introduce and test innovations without large risks. Risks are reduced by confining the geographical scale or the duration of the intervention. Additionally, 'failure' of the innovation is somewhat more tolerated. These conditions enable actors to participate more easily (Vreugdenhil et al. 2010).

In Evidence Based Policy Making (EBPM) also, pilot projects have been recognized as important tools to develop 'evidence' of policy innovations (Cabinet Office 1999). Although there is no unanimous definition of Evidence Based Policy Making (EBPM) it is claimed to (Cabinet office 1999; HM Treasury GSRU 2007):

* Improve understanding of an issue and its associated actors

* Develop solution in collecting evidences and shared work

* Test solutions and communication practices

* Enrich understanding of contexts (local, political, social, technological, economical ...).

Furthermore, EBPM is a dynamic concept that applies at different stages of policy development: initiation, implementation, defense and justification, evaluation and readjustment

In our understanding, the role of pilot projects in realization EBPM consists of eliciting grounded knowledge, identifying what works, and testing policies. The evidence developed in pilot projects on the functioning of the policy innovation in a practical setting could be used to inform policy-making, which can be improved based on the evidence (Pawson and Tilley 1997; Cabinet Office 2003). In other words, pilot projects can serve realizing EBPM by guiding policy-making with knowledge of what is appropriate for specific problems, which is what EBPM is about (Sanderson 2003).

The importance placed on pilot projects is increasing due to the increasing technological and societal complexity of contemporary public policy making (Cabinet Office 1999; Ker Rault 2008), the loss of confidence of the public in many professions and public bodies, and the requirement of national governments to make use of pilot projects to find out whether policies do or do not work as intended (Solesbury 2001; Cabinet Office 2003; HM Treasury GSRU 2007). For researchers it provides a tool to improve innovations and to cooperate with societal actors and to collect financial resources. Practitioners can find out whether certain innovations make management more efficient and are thus worth to be applied at a larger scale. The number of pilot projects initiated is difficult to estimate, because both policy and nonpolicy actors in any policy domain can initiate a pilot project. However, to give an idea of pilot projects initiated by practitioners, the Dutch water management authority has conducted about 40 pilot projects in river and coastal management over the last 5 years.

Despite the prosperous expectations and enthusiasm with which pilots are initiated, results are often considered disappointing (Sanderson 2002; De Groen et al. 2004). Policy-makers seem to 'abuse' pilot projects as alibi to show supremacy of their personal ideas, rather than using them to learn from. Particularly in a narrow view of EBPM addressing the issue of 'what works under which circumstances', pilot projects are therefore not uncontested. Additionally, despite their wide use, pilot projects have received little research attention (Huitema et al. 2009), especially in a trans-disciplinary domain such as water management.

In this paper, we theoretically and empirically study pilot projects to deepen understanding of how they can contribute to EBPM and which limitations and problems may arise when realizing EBPM. Let us note that pilot projects can also be used for many other purposes, but for an analysis thereof we refer to Vreugdenhil et al. (2010). The research questions addressed in this paper are the following:

* Which types of pilot projects contribute to the realization of EBPM? …

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