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Improving effectiveness through evidence-based decision-making

Published: 11 Aug 2021

Ravindiran Gurusamy, IRCA Certificated Associate Auditor, offers an overview of how evidence-based decision-making can play a vital role in quality management and decision-making.  

Facts, evidence and data analysis can support objectivity and confidence in decision-making – but how does evidence-based decision-making really benefit organisations and audit professionals? 

For a start, evidence is more reliable and reproducible than fact and is verifiable at any time by different personnel. This was acknowledged in 2015 when one of the quality management principles in ISO 9000:2000 – ‘Factual approach to decision-making’ – was revised to ‘Evidence-based decision-making’ in ISO 9000:2015. 

When reliable evidence is used to aid decision-making processes, it helps decision makers reach similar results in different situations, whether the decisions are being taken by senior management or by other managers across different levels of an organisation. So what types of evidence are beneficial?  

Evidence is more reliable and reproducible than fact and is verifiable at any time by different personnel.

Types of evidence

Evidence covers information drawn from personal testimony, documents, or material objects supporting the existence or verity of something. It can be either valuable or detrimental to an organisation trying to reach a conclusion, but it must be relevant to the situation. If it is not, it may detrimentally affect the outcome of a decision. Outlined below are eight of the most common types of evidence: 

  • Anecdotal: an individual may influence the leadership with their own experience and perception. In this situation, the deciding authority should consider the combination of other, more reliable evidence. 
  • Hearsay: consists of statements made by witnesses who were not present at an event. It should not be considered by the leadership unless it is directly supported by other, more reliable forms of evidence. 
  • Character: another type of anecdotal evidence that may be submitted to prove someone acted in a particular way based on their character. This cannot be used as evidence because it will never offer sufficient information to draw a conclusion.  
  • Circumstantial: also known as indirect evidence, this is used to infer something based on a series of facts. Leadership should never consider it as strong evidence because things were happened in different circumstances. 
  • Demonstrative: an object or document is considered to be demonstrative evidence when it directly illustrates a fact. It is a common and reliable type of evidence. Examples include photographs, records, charts, reports, minutes, and so on. Demonstrative evidence is common and more reliable in decision- making.  
  • Direct: is a powerful type of evidence that requires no inference. It alone is the proof. This could be, for instance, the testimony of a witness who saw an event at first hand.  
  • Physical: also known as “real” or “material” evidence, it can be presented as a physical object, captured in still or moving images, described in text or referred to in documents  
  • Statistics: often provided in the form of statistics – for example, charts showing performance over time. Be aware that statistics are not created equal and chart data can be manipulated intentionally or unintentionally. The leadership must examine who is publishing the numbers, and what are they trying to prove with them. Statistics can be used to help an organisation improve or to convince outsiders that systems are performing better than they really are. Both use valid data to drive very different objectives. 

As well as the above, there are a number of other types of evidence, including digital, documentary and prima facie.  

Whatever the type of evidence used, senior management or other designated authority should verify whether the information is complete, correct, consistent and current, and whether it gives sufficient objective evidence to take an appropriate decision. Used correctly, evidence can play a vital role in supporting the QMS as a whole. 

Key benefits of an evidence-based approach 

  • Improved decision-making process 
  • Improved operational efficiency and effectiveness 
  • Increased ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of past decisions 
  • Reaching reliable and reproducible audit conclusions in a systematic audit process.