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Evidence for Policy Prediction: Intervention-centred or Context-centred?


In thinking about what evidence can help assess what the effects would be of implementing a policy in situ, it is useful to think in terms of two approaches: the Intervention-centred and the Context-centred. This presentation will lay out the central differences between the two, describe situations where one would likely be far better than the other, and outline their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Roughly and not surprisingly, the intervention-centred is more ‘manualisable’ since it depends primarily on business as usual in the sciences, whereas context centring constitutes a kind of social technology and requires amalgamating evidence in a case-by-case manner with no well-rehearsed methodology to fall back on.

That makes troubles for us. Because when it comes to actual success in situ, context matters. So we must beware of putting all our eggs in the easier-to-manage intervention-centred basket. Recent emphasis on ‘what works for whom where’ moves the two approaches a little closer together, but not enough, I worry, to do the job well.



Nancy Cartwright is a methodologist and philosopher of the natural and social sciences, with special focus on causation, evidence, and modeling. Her recent work has been on how to make the most of evidence in evidence-based policy. She is a Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) at Durham University in the UK and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California San Diego, having worked previously at Stanford University and the London School of Economics.

She is a MacArthur Fellow, a fellow of the British Academy, the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Social Sciences and a member of Leopoldina (the German National Academy of Natural Science) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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