Evidence-based Practice and the Ethics of Care: ‘What Works’ or ‘What Matters’?

Tomkins, Leah and Bristow, Alexandra (2023). Evidence-based Practice and the Ethics of Care: ‘What Works’ or ‘What Matters’? Human Relations, 76(1) pp. 118–143.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00187267211044143


This paper considers why and how evidence-based practice (EBP) has become distorted in practice, and what to do about it. We present qualitative data from an action research project in policing to highlight tensions between the rhetoric and reality of EBP, and the ways in which EBP’s seductive catchphrase ‘what works’ is being understood and applied. Through the lens of care ethics, we integrate ‘what matters’ with ‘what works’, and ‘what matters/works here’ with ‘what matters/works everywhere’. This approach recognises relational expertise, practical reasoning and critical inquiry as vital for EBP in practices of social intervention. Drawing on key care ethics motifs, we suggest that care is the ethical scaffolding upon which social justice relies, and hence crucial to organs of security, peacekeeping and law enforcement. From this position, we argue that policing might renegotiate its difficult relationship with the particular, recasting it from something uncomfortably discretionary (the maverick cop) and shameful (an individualised blame culture) into something which underpins and enhances police professionalism. Whilst developed in a policing context, these reflections have a broader relevance for questions of professional legitimacy and credibility, especially within the ‘new professions’, and the costs of privileging any one type of understanding over others.

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