Eyes on Evidence

June 17, 2021

Transparency is a fundamental element of a robust democratic process. A healthy democracy must function in such a way that citizens are able to hold elected officials accountable for the decisions that impact their lives. Elected representatives are tasked with distilling information and considerations from countless sources, measuring risk, gauging impact, weighing conflicting demands, and so forth. Ultimately, they must make decisions and implement policies that best serve the needs of the people.

Eyes on Evidence: A framework for evaluating evidence use in Canada

Given the complexity and volume of considerations that influence this process, accountability is mission critical. In order for the public to hold a government to account, it must be able to discern if and how evidence is contributing to decisions. This demands that transparency is prioritized throughout the policymaking process.

While transparency in government decision- making takes many forms, when it comes to the transparent use of evidence in policy, there currently exists a knowledge gap. To strengthen overall public knowledge of policymaking, we need accessible mechanisms to address evidence-use in policy. To address this, a framework for assessing how evidence informs policy, originally developed in the United Kingdom, was adapted and tested in the Canadian context. This framework assesses whether the public can find the evidence used to inform a policy, as well as how that evidence was used in the process. The framework was tested on a sample set of policies and was informed by supplemental research into the policymaking process in Canada, including how and where policies were announced, the types of policies created by the government, and the types of evidence cited in these policies.

Key Results: 

  • A framework to assess the transparency of evidence in policy was successfully adapted for the Canadian context
  • The framework assesses policies at first announcement to the public in four categories: diagnosis, proposal, implementation, and testing and evaluation
  • The framework assesses whether the evidence used to inform the policy exists and if the policy explains how it was used
  • The framework does not assess the quality of the evidence
  • Policy announcements occurred primarily on departmental websites, although they were also found in different areas
  • Policies were introduced in a variety of formats including regulations, consultation announcements, Acts of Parliament, and funding announcements
  • Evidence that informs policy included a diversity of sources including peer-reviewed academic literature, government reports
  • and data, and consultations, amongst others
  • A series of best practices was created for using the framework and also for making policy announcements in a way to effectively highlight how evidence was used to inform the policy
  • Increased focus from departments should be applied to citing evidence used to inform decisions and explaining how uncertainty in the evidence base was managed when formulating a policy
  • In 2021, the framework will be applied systematically to assess the transparency of evidence occurring across government departments