Nous contacter|Plan du site|Mentions légales|Accès réservé

Assessing Deviance, Crime and Prevention in Europe
Version française PDF

Crimprev info n°33bis – Scientific research and public policies

Cândido da Agra, Sophie Body-Gendrot et Josefina Castro

Full text

Further to the Crimprev meeting in Porto on local public policies relating to contemporary insecurities, a reflection day was organized on the subject of links between scientific research and public policiesIt took place on 15 January at the University of Porto’s Faculty of Law.

The purpose was to consider whether there are any links between the production of scientific knowledge about crime and justice, and the definition and scientific assessment of public safety/security policies. The aim was also to identify the nature and level of development of such links.

The meeting involved around 150 people: about 30 researchers from 14 countries, the scientific officer of the European Commission responsible for overseeing the Crimprev project (Manuela Alfé), about 100 individuals from the judicial system (magistracy, probation services, penitentiary system, criminal police and the magistracy school), internal security (Minister of the Interior, chief constables, police forces), Porto City Council (including the Mayor of Porto and “field" operatives), and criminology students from Porto University1.

The seminar focused on two areas: a) epistemological and methodological aspects of the relationship between research and public policies; and b) links between the various levels of public policies.

I – The relationship between research and public policies

The first area, the framework for which might be termed epistemological and methodological, centred on three axes 1) research, power and action; 2) criminology research and policy; and 3) methodological aspects of evaluation research.

1 – Research, power and action

The first axis, presented by Cândido da Agra and discussed by René Lévy, established a typology of links between research, power and policy. An odd paradox can be observed: on the one hand, there is a huge body of theoretical and empirical knowledge about crime, justice and (in)security, which has continued to grow, especially since the 1990s; on the other hand, we lack communication mechanisms and instruments for linking the production of knowledge with strategies for action. The conditions needed in order to create a permanent research dissemination system were set out. They would involve a certain number of “guarantees”, in three domains - science, law and communication - taking the form of an agreement. The CRIMPREV programme could signal the emergence of such an agreement which, while respecting the independence of science, constitutes an essential element of the dissemination system for research aimed at defining and assessing public policy.

According to René Lévy, it is essential to come up with instruments enabling an interface to be created between research and administration. In particular, they must enable us to think ahead so that our needs for knowledge in the medium term can be identified. Such needs must be “reformulated” in terms that are acceptable for research, and that means the involvement of people who have a good understanding of both worlds (science and administration). And finally, we need an instrument to ensure that the supply of and demand for research are matched up impartially, on a level playing field.

2 – Criminology research and policy

The second discussion axis was launched by Klaus Sessar and discussed by René van Swaaningen. Two points were analysed.

Firstly, the empirical conflict between criminology and policy. For example, the German experience of juvenile delinquency shows that diversion and educational measures can replace suppressive measures, and have positive effects. Another example is the Portuguese experience of decriminalizing all drug-use. It shows that drug-use rates have not risen because of a non-suppressive drug policy. Finally, empirical research shows that victims are no more repressive than non-victims. These three examples bring empirical evidence into conflict with the negative beliefs underlying crime-prevention policies. Also one role of theoretical criminology is to observe policy. It can do this particularly by theorizing on the typical and essential differences between science, justice and power. Links between criminology and crime policy mirror the difficult but necessary contacts between science and power via the mediation of an intermediary sphere, which itself constitutes an autonomous system: the social system.

3 – Methodological aspects of evaluation research

The third axis of reflection was developed by Philippe Robert’s presentation, discussed by Tim Hope. Assessment is a contradictory subject full of tensions.According to Philippe Robert, everyone sings its praises, but in reality everyonemistrusts it. In the first place, attitudes towards evaluation are ambivalent. Although it has its advantages (evaluation is needed for a number of reasons), there is also resistance to evaluation from decision-makers who see it as a means of control. That is why certain countries prefer monitoring or auditing: a “caricature” of evaluation research. Furthermore, the difficult relationships between the various parties impede the autonomy needed for serious scientific work to take place. The purpose of the latter is to examine the effects of a given action on a target. To that end, one methodological rule is unavoidable: data must be established ex ante, while the substance of the action to be assessed (the aims, inputs, implementation and outputs) must also be measured in advance. It is important to distinguish outputs from outcome, i.e. the results of the impact, which is the true assessment criterion.

As regards evaluation research, Tim Hope believes that one cannot truly separate the scientific and political spheres: “inevitably, in evaluation research, politics infects science”. Analysis of the links between research and politics must be conducted either from the institutional or the methodological viewpoint. With regard to the latter, Tim Hope highlighted the opposing stances of politicians and researchers as to the validity of research results. Researchers’ concerns mainly centre on the risk of false positives. For their part, politicians fear the risk presented by false negatives. This problem is illustrated by examples arising from recent developments in criminology.

The second area revolved around the state of affairs in policy assessment in Europe, on the one hand, and around the ways of regulating problems associated with insecurity, on the other. The subject was led by presentations given by Michel Marcus, Amadeu Recasens i Brunet and Adam Crawford.

II – Links between the various levels of public policies

The links between European, national and local safety/security policies were discussed, along with links between objective and subjective insecurity. Adam Crawford focused on safety/security as a public asset, and on the issues facing safety/security and freedom today in the management of risks within Western societies. The same issue was examined by Amadeu Recasens i Brunet, who also underlined the different attitudes of scientists and politicians as regards the production of knowledge. The role of the state, the market and civil society in governing insecurity and risks highlights the need to develop analysis networks.

When it comes to assessing policy in Europe, the balance is somewhat negative: there is virtually no evaluation research; it is emerging very slowly from the contradictions and paradoxes detailed above. As for methods of control and forms of problematization, the field is very fragmented and full of inconsistencies.


The feedback we received from decision-makers and politicians to this day of reflection was very positive. It a rare experience which should be made permanent, in which those involved in research and knowledge, and political players, stand back from their own fields to ask questions, clarify issues and develop improved social action, while fully respecting each other’s autonomy.

Date of publishing :

01 june 2009

Paper ISBN :

978 2 917565 65 0

To cite this document

Cândido da Agra, Sophie Body-Gendrot et Josefina Castro, «Crimprev info n°33bis – Scientific research and public policies», CRIMPREV [En ligne], CRIMPREV programme, Crimprev Info, URL :

Contacts :

Cândido da Agra – Josefina Castro, Faculdade de Direito da universidade do Porto, Rua dos Bragas, n° 223, P - 4050-123 PORTO. E-mails :,

Sophie Body-Gendrot, CESDIP, Immeuble Edison, 43, boulevard Vauban, F – 78280 Guyancourt. E-mail :