Understanding harmful effects of social policies and interventions

Policies are designed to create a particular effect (outcome) on a particular group of people (target population), by means of a causal mechanism. However, social policies may sometimes have unexpected or unintended consequences-possibly because we often do not have a good understanding of how or why policies create social change.

Asking about these unintended consequences allows us to examine some of the assumptions and theories that researchers and policymakers hold about how their actions create changes in complex social systems. Building on previous work examining adverse effects of public health policies, we held two workshops with policymakers and researchers with interests in a range of policy areas, to discuss how social changes, expected and unexpected, arise, and how researchers and policymakers define, describe, anticipate and plan to evaluate unintended consequences. These data will inform an initial holistic evaluation framework to capture unintended consequences of policies. Finally, the workshops and framework will lead to development of a large-scale funding bid for ESRC (Winter 2016) which will include: two systematic reviews (effects of, and methods to evaluate unintended consequences), development and testing of methodological approaches to evaluate unintended consequences, and a co-produced evaluation framework for use by policymakers and researchers.

Former DSPI PI: Kathryn Oliver

Funded by: John Fell OUP Fund

Completed: 2016