Evidence-based policy making in accounting and financial markets: are we doing enough?

The importance of evidence-based policy making is a message we often hear. However, is it being done effectively in accounting and financial markets or are policymakers just paying lip service to the idea? What more can be done by researchers and policymakers alike?

These are some of the questions addressed at ICAEW’s annual PD Leake lecture, held at Chartered Accountants’ Hall last week. The lecture entitled Evidence-based policy making: challenges and opportunities for accounting and financial markets research was given by Professor Christian Leuz of Chicago Booth University with a response provided by Melanie McLaren from the Financial Reporting Council.

Below is a summary of some of key themes captured during the lecture and in subsequent discussions.

 Is evidence-based policy making being done effectively?

While it was agreed that steps are being made in the right direction, it was also felt that there was still a lot more to be done. Certainly ICAEWs motivation for hosting the lecture would reflect this, which was prompted by the findings of some of ICAEWs recent thought leadership reports including SME accounting requirements: basing policy on evidence and The effects of mandatory IFRS adoption in the EU. These reports emphasise how difficult it is on one hand to draw conclusions from the research and on the other hand to conduct policy relevant work. This issue becomes increasingly relevant in the current climate as policymakers come under increasing pressure to provide cost-benefit evidence for any proposed regulatory changes.

The use of post-implementation reviews following the adoption of new accounting standards was noted as a significant step forward towards better evidence-based policy making. However, it was acknowledged that there is still room for improvement. In particular, standard-setters need to give more consideration to these reviews during the early stages of developing a standard. Key questions to be asking during this time could include; how will we define success?; what data is needed to evaluate this? and how should we obtain it?

Access to data was presented as one the biggest challenges faced by the academic community when looking to conduct policy-relevant work. Professor Leuz commented that there were valuable insights to be gained from the work of the PCAOB and its Center for Economic Analysis which – subject to conditions of use and confidentiality – has made data available for research purposes.                                                                                                  

What more can be done?

Professor Leuz suggested that much could be learned from evidence-based medicine which has proved to be very successful. However, it was also noted that this had necessitated an enormous investment in infrastructure and that this would have to be a key consideration for accounting and financial markets pursuing a step-change in the quality of evidence-based policy making.

In the short term, continuous improvements to engagement between the academic community and policy makers was felt desirable. It was observed that it would take effort on both sides – academics cannot just produce research and hope it finds its way to policymakers and equally that policymakers needed to do more to reach out and find the research.

One practical suggestion offered to the academic community was to start publishing two reports, one full report and one summary written in simpler language to be more understandable to policymakers and other non-academics. A suggestion for policymakers was to consider mandating data collection from organisations implementing new standards and to make the data accessible for research purposes.

The lecture ended on a jovial but also positive note. The irony that policymakers would need to provide evidence of the benefits before committing more resources to evidence-based policy making was acknowledged. However, it was also recognised that important steps to move evidence-based policy making forward had been taken on both sides and that events, such as the PD Leake lecture, continue to help create a dialogue on this topic.

Recordings of the full lecture will be available shortly on the Information for Better Markets home page.  


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