NEVIVO – The Nature of the Evidence: Studying the evidence base of policy, stakeholders, and policy design in an in vivo setting

Project duration: 01.07.2021 – 30.06.2023

The notion that better empirical evidence leads to better regulation is considered obsolete. When it comes to introducing new public policies or business practices, previous research and casual observation suggest that people may object to A/B testing novel approaches before rolling them out in a wider population. The literature has titled this phenomenon ‘experimental aversion’; prior research is however inconclusive due to statistical issues, contradictory findings, its focus on hypothetical and non-consequential scenarios, and its focus on lay people.

Despite evidence for experimental aversion, the aspiration that regulatory changes are based on empirical evidence persists. Acknowledging this tension, NEVIVO studies how the nature and quality of evidence impact on the beliefs of various stakeholders of the program and their support for policy change in a real environment. NEVIVO takes as object of study an ongoing federal policy program targeting low-income households in Germany to increase domestic energy efficiency and different groups that have stakes in the program, such as governmental and NGO officials, policy experts and households targeted by the program.

NEVIVO proceeds in two research steps. In step 1, field experimental evidence is generated within the program and presented to stakeholder groups. It is studied how this gold-standard evidence affects support for policy changes and beliefs about the effectiveness of policy options in the program. The study design overcomes weaknesses of prior research by providing meaningful statistical comparisons of policy options in a non-hypothetical and consequential scenario to a diverse set of participants that have stakes in the program. As the program has never been evaluated, beliefs about whether and how it is effective and how to improve it are unconstrained by evidence, and so experimental aversion can be tested. Step 2 provides a qualitative understanding of the way evidence is produced and perceived among different stakeholder groups and how the perception of evidence fuels political decision-making. Through a series of focus-group interviews with the program’s social workers, deliberative workshops with the targeted households, and a focus interview with political decision makers, NEVIVO will capture the contextual dimension in which evidence is produced and examine the dynamics of policy stakeholders sharing, deliberating on, and developing proposals for policy change on the basis of gold standard evidence.

Project partners:

Prof. Dr. Kathia Serrano-Velarde, Max-Weber-Institute of Sociology (

Prof. Dr. Jale Tosun, Institute of Political Science (

Johannes Eurich, Institute for the Study of Christian Social Service, Faculty of Theology (

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Letzte Änderung: 2021-11-23
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