The path to evidence-informed decision-making isn’t paved - it’s transparent

Thursday, June 17, 2021 - 09:17

Over the years, E4D has advocated for the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in many different ways. We’ve led campaigns on science advice and research funding, conducted original research on science integrity and how politicians find and use evidence, and developed resources for the research community to help bridge the science and policy worlds. 

Why? Because we all benefit when governments make decisions informed by the best available evidence. From basic research to advisory structures to specialized training, every step helps move us in the right direction. 

Yet, conversations on evidence-informed decision-making rarely prioritize the public’s ability to understand what goes into government decisions, let alone the evidence base that contributes to them. 

Transparency is the persistently missing link. Without it, how can we assess progress on evidence-informed decision-making? This is especially important in times of increased uncertainty when trust in government decisions is mission critical.

So, we’re setting out to bridge that gap. Today we release our latest report, “Eyes on Evidence: A framework for evaluating evidence use in Canada”, which asks a number of vital questions. How is evidence used, or not used, in the policymaking process? How does evidence move through the structures of government decisions, and who is responsible for stewarding its path? 

“Eyes on Evidence” is phase one of this work. In this first step, we’ve taken a framework, originally developed in the U.K. by Sense About Science, and adapted it for use in the Canadian context. The framework you’ll find in the report looks at whether the public can find the evidence used to inform government policy and understand how it contributed to the development of the policy.  

This is ambitious work, but communicating about evidence isn’t a bonus to be added on when time and resources permit. For the public, it provides the opportunity to understand how governments arrive at their decisions and to consider whether those decisions are actually working. For researchers, it is an opportunity to examine where gaps in knowledge exist and how they can contribute relevant or missing information. 

Communicating about evidence has been a bumpy road this past year, making this work all the more timely. Throughout the pandemic, people around the world and from all walks of life have sought to understand the decisions that impact their health, livelihoods, and families. These decisions have often sparked widespread confusion and at times, frustration, due in part to muddy communication around what evidence was used to inform these tough choices. 

Little work to date in Canada has focused on this specific dimension of transparency. We hope “Eyes on Evidence” is the beginning of a much needed public discussion and plants a new seed for improving the relationship between science, society, and policy in Canada. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, we have learned the hard way that the strength of this relationship is our best chance at a way forward. In fact, it’s our best bet on the brighter future we all deserve.  

---

This project is being conducted in partnership with the Evidence to Action Research Institute. We would like to thank the Trottier Family Foundation for making this work possible.

 

Rachael Maxwell

Executive Director

Rachael Maxwell joins Evidence for Democracy with a deep knowledge of the science landscape in Canada and a strong track record of success working at national not-for-profit research organizations. From 2018-21 she held progressively responsible roles at Genome Canada, working across the organization on key priorities in communications, public affairs and strategic planning.