Policy-making does not end with the passage and implementation of legislation. Several questions emerge afterwards. Has the policy attained its objectives? What are its unintended effects? Is a failure to meet the policy goals related to the design of the public policy or its implementation? Policy evaluation tackles these and related questions about expected and unexpected policy outcomes and impacts. By definition, evaluation studies make judgements about the quality of public policies, which implies that negative findings can, in principle, re-initiate the policy-making process with the objective of improving existing policy arrangements, as argued by Lasswell (1956). While this definition might give the impression that evaluation studies are only carried out by experts who possess the required knowledge and techniques for making such judgements, many actors are in fact involved in the process. The large number of potential stakeholders at this policy stage results from the fact that there is a ‘political’ component to policy evaluation, meaning that statements about the success and failure of a given public policy are likely to be used for generating positive or negative images of those in power. Therefore, to understand policy-making fully, the evaluation stage cannot be left out. To illustrate the central topics, we will first give an overview of the different types and methods of policy evaluation, before moving on to providing ideas about research design for evaluating policies. This is followed by a discussion of the political characteristics of policy evaluation and the role of ‘evidence’ in policy-making.
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