What counts as evidence?


By evidence we mean information, facts or data supporting (or contradicting) a claim, assumption or hypothesis. Evidence may come from controlled scientific research indicating some general facts about the world, human beings or organizational practices. It may come from local organizational or business indicators, like company metrics or observations of practice conditions. Even personal experience can constitute evidence, as in the case where an entrepreneur learns from having launched different business activities the one that seems most likely to pay off. Unlike intuition, anecdote or opinion, evidence is an objective finding that can be confirmed by repeated observations of independent observers and that can help to make a decision or support a conclusion.

At the same time, evidence means little in itself. To make sense of evidence, we need theory, an understanding of context, prior experience and a critical mindset. You might learn you have a score of 10 on a test, but if you don’t know what the total possible or average is its tough to evaluate whether you did well. In addition you would like to know how reliable and valid that test is. Until you know whether the test is a useful indicator of information important to you, it really provides no information at all.

Evidence is always gathered in a particular context, which means that evidence in itself can never be treated as a “universal truth”. Even the outcome of the most valid and reliable scientific research is only intended to inform practitioners and aid them in questioning their assumptions. Think of it perhaps in legal terms. A court is presented with many forms of evidence: DNA, people’s testimonies, alibis, locations, statements, etc. Each piece of evidence means little without contextual knowledge, such as motive, opportunity, etc. The evidence in itself doesn’t tell you what to decide, but it does help you to make a better decision.

See also best available evidence.