Magro, E., Kleibrink, A.
Palgrave Communications 4:74
In the European Union (EU) multiple levels of governance interact in the design of public policies. Multi-level policies require a variety of evidence to define problems appropriately, set the right objectives and create suitable instruments to achieve them. How such a variety of evidence is used in practice, however, remains largely elusive. In 2013, the reformed EU Cohesion Policy brought about a sea change in the way governments must justify their investment priorities to support innovation and economic development. One of many new 'ex-anteconditionalities' sought to improve the design of regional innovation policies by putting strong emphasis on the underlying evidence base of policy strategies. A multitude of data sources had to be combined to meet this novel requirement in 120 regional and national strategy documents. Combining various data sources meaningfully was a necessary first step to engage with stakeholders from relevant business and research communities to jointly develop and decide on priorities for public investments. Stakeholder organisations had the opportunity to contest insights coming from official statistics. But how do governments reconcile insights from socio-economic analyses with differing views from stakeholders? We illustrate how such contestation of evidence has unfolded in the Basque Country. In this region, socio-economic analysis and broader stakeholder consultation rapidly confirmed three investment priorities that had been already quite established. Stakeholders from local governments, universities and other government departments contested this choice as not fully representative of the local potential and societal needs. Through their participation in a multi-stakeholder body advising the government they succeeded in adding four priorities that address local societal issues: sustainable food, urban living, culture and environmental protection. Our findings underline that rational planning using statistics gets governments only so far in meeting pressing societal challenges. Stakeholders contesting and complementing statistical insights make policies more responsive to local needs.