Background: Novel policy interventions may lack evaluation-based evidence. Considerations to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol in the UK were informed by econometric modelling (the 'Sheffield model'). We aim to investigate policy stakeholders' views of the utility of modelling studies for public health policy.
Methods: In-depth qualitative interviews with 36 individuals involved in MUP policy debates (purposively sampled to include civil servants, politicians, academics, advocates and industry-related actors) were conducted and thematically analysed.
Results: Interviewees felt familiar with modelling studies and often displayed detailed understandings of the Sheffield model. Despite this, many were uneasy about the extent to which the Sheffield model could be relied on for informing policymaking and preferred traditional evaluations. A tension was identified between this preference for post hoc evaluations and a desire for evidence derived from local data, with modelling seen to offer high external validity. MUP critics expressed concern that the Sheffield model did not adequately capture the 'real life' world of the alcohol market, which was conceptualized as a complex and, to some extent, inherently unpredictable system. Communication of modelling results was considered intrinsically difficult but presenting an appropriate picture of the uncertainties inherent in modelling was viewed as desirable. There was general enthusiasm for increased use of econometric modelling to inform future policymaking but an appreciation that such evidence should only form one input into the process.
Conclusion: Modelling studies are valued by policymakers as they provide contextually relevant evidence for novel policies, but tensions exist with views of traditional evaluation-based evidence.
© The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association.