Theory, Practise and Quality Assurance
Evaluating Sustainable Development series
Edited by Anneke von Raggamby and Frieder Rubik
___________________________________________________ INTRODUCTION The question of how much we need to know before we take a decision is a pertinent one. In our private lives, we would conduct a thorough investigation before buying a car, deciding what school to send our children to or investing money. In the public policy domain, the most difficult decisions often concern public health expenditure (swine flu) or the environment (climate change) and involve high levels of uncertainty and high costs of doing nothing. Regarding both private and public decisions, we know it is not only the level of detail that matters. On the contrary, we often suffer from an information overload. If it comes too late, it is of no use. If it is incomplete, we may face unwanted side effects. If we did not consult others, then we as public policy makers make ourselves vulnerable to accusations of favouring one specific interest group. The European Commission’s impact assessment system aims to help us to address these issues. In this article, we provide a brief overview of its origins, scope, how it handles uncertainty and why it is working.1 Stephen White and Jakub Koniecki* THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Impact assessment is a tool to support the development of new policy proposals. It does so by looking towards the future (ex-ante assessment) and providing the information needed for evidence-based decision-making. It is not a substitute for political judgement; it does not necessarily provide a single answer, but rather identifies the pros and cons of different ways of addressing...
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