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Integrated Evidence for Integrated Food Policy: the Need, the Challenges of Big Data and the Blurring Identities of Evidence Generators

Civil Society
Policy Analysis
Big Data
Raquel Ajates Gonzalez
University of Dundee
Raquel Ajates Gonzalez
University of Dundee

Can integrated food policy be possible without generating integrated evidence that provides a comprehensive picture of the multidimensional character of specific, but highly complex, food and farming topics? Are all policy decisions doomed to fail, and fail to achieve integrated policy if decisions are informed by only partial evidence? This paper explores the concept of integrated evidence, the logistical challenges of applying it in policy processes, and the constraints of bounded rationality. By presenting two case studies, one around the increasing importance of Citizen Observatories and citizen science, and another on the virtues and sins of grass-fed meat, this research calls for a rethink of the food policy triangle that depicts food policy as a pull-push battle between the state, industry and civil society. It argues the boundaries between those categories are increasingly blurred, and furthermore, that traditional evidence-generating actors no longer have a monopoly over data. Big data sets are emerging, and with them a lack of capacity to regulate, process, quality assure, categorise, circulate, digest and ethically-weight those data when informing policy. This paper considers the implications for power dynamics and actor status in the food policy arena and argues that the concept of integrated evidence can help unveil underlying political and normative choices often presented as objective evidence-based decisions.
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