Ottawa - October 17, 2022
New report finds that policy-making across Canada scores low on transparency of evidence usage
In a new report, titled “Eyes On Evidence III: An assessment of the transparency of evidence usage across provincial policy announcements,” Evidence for Democracy (E4D) evaluated over 100 policies issued by the governments of Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan to determine whether the public can find and understand the evidence used to make policy decisions. Similar to earlier work examining federal policies, E4D found that provincial policies scored low on the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it is difficult for people across Canada to find the evidence behind government policy.
“Our Eyes On Evidence series asks the question: can the evidence behind policy decisions be found by the public?” said Dr. Caitlin Fowler, a Senior Research Associate at E4D. “We began, in Eyes on Evidence II, by looking at federal policies, which scored low on the transparency of evidence usage in all ten of the departments and agencies we evaluated. But in Canada, policy-making is distributed across federal, provincial, territorial and municipal jurisdictions, as well as Indigenous self-government. This is why we turned our attention to the provincial level next.”
E4D’s provincial assessment found that policies often failed to mention the evidence used to make a decision, let alone provided a reference or citation for any evidence mentioned. Almost all policies scored poorly in the testing and evaluation section (i.e., to determine how and when a policy has worked) of E4D’s transparency framework, and rarely explored the merits of alternative policy options, or acknowledged any absent, weak or contradictory evidence. In particular, policies from the Government of Saskatchewan scored very poorly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the power and peril of the many interconnected governments within a federated system. When evidence is made transparent in policy-making, the public has the opportunity to scrutinize the relationship between evidence and public policy and consider whether they agree with the decisions shaping their lives.
“We all benefit when governments make policy decisions informed by the best available evidence. In fact, virtually every policy issue that our elected representatives face can benefit from evidence, especially as we consider the complexity of the ever-growing challenges we must confront as a society,” said Dr. Vanessa Sung, E4D’s Interim Executive Director. “Asking for transparency in policy-making may be ambitious, but communicating the evidence used to make policy decisions shouldn’t just be a bonus added on when time and resources permit. We must place evidence at the heart of public policy.”
Read the full report.
Senior Research Associate, Evidence for Democracy
Evidence for Democracy is the leading, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en
Caitlin Fowler recently joined Evidence for Democracy as part of a graduate student internship offered by McGill University. Caitlin is in the final stages of her PhD in Biological and Biomedical Engineering, where she took an interdisciplinary approach to examine how brain structure and chemistry are altered by age, Alzheimer’s disease, and anti-inflammatory treatment. The equally interdisciplinary nature of science policy is therefore a natural next step for Caitlin.
Caitlin brings with her significant experience in project management, information synthesis, and science communication. While in graduate school, Caitlin volunteered as a content creator and editor with Useful Science, and co-organized two Pint of Science events, both of which involved communicating research to science enthusiasts in the general public. Towards the end of her PhD, Caitlin also worked as a grant coordinator and writer for the non-profit organization Concussion Legacy Foundation Canada, and successfully secured funding for brain injury prevention programs.