Eyes on Evidence III

We all benefit when governments make policy decisions informed by the best available evidence. Data, facts, and science challenge what we consider as common sense, and help distinguish the boundaries between reality and political framing. 

Transparency is a prerequisite to enabling evidence-informed decision-making. When the public can find the evidence underlying policy decisions, they have the opportunity to scrutinize the relationship between evidence and public policy. Without transparency, we run the risk of losing the ability for citizens to hold policy-makers accountable, further distancing the public from the policy decisions that impact their lives.

Previously, in Eyes on Evidence II, we applied a transparency framework (adapted from the United Kingdom) to assess the transparency of evidence usage in a total of 100 policies from the Government of Canada. Our assessment found that policies scored low, meaning that it’s very difficult for members of the public to find the evidence behind government policy.

Now, in this study, we applied our transparency framework to assess the transparency of evidence usage in provincial policies issued by the governments of Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, and compared transparency in policy-making across the Canadian federation.

Key Findings

  • We applied a transparency framework to assess the transparency of evidence usage in a total of 133 policies issued by the provincial governments of Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. Simply put, our framework asks: can the evidence behind policy decisions be found by the lay public? The framework consists of four categories: 
    • Diagnosis: What do policy-makers know about the issue?
    • Proposal: What is the government's chosen intervention, and why was it chosen?
    • Implementation: How will the chosen intervention be rolled out, and why was this method chosen?
    • Testing and evaluation: How and when will we know if the policy has worked?
  • Overall, our assessment found that provincial policies scored low on the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it’s very difficult for people living in Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan to find the evidence behind provincial policy. 
    • There were shared shortcomings across provinces. Too often, policies would either mention none of the underlying evidence behind the issue or proposed intervention at hand, or would fail to provide a reference or citation for any evidence mentioned. Policies rarely explored the merits of alternative policy options, or acknowledged any absent, weak or contradictory evidence. Lastly, across all provincial governments, an overwhelming majority of policies scored poorly (i.e., received a 0) in the testing and evaluation section (i.e., to know how and when a policy has worked).
    • In particular, policies from the Government of Saskatchewan scored very poorly. 15 of the 18 policies assessed in this province received a 0 across all four sections of the transparency framework.
    • The transparency of evidence usage fared slightly better in federal policies, though there were several similar trends in both federal and provincial assessments. Relative to federal policies, policies from the governments of Ontario and British Columbia scored more poorly in every section, but scored slightly higher in the Testing and Evaluation section. A score of 3 was rare across all levels of government.
  • We recognize that the transparency framework is not a perfect measure. Throughout the Eyes on Evidence series, we spoke with public servants, political staffers, and elected representatives to explore what internal challenges or barriers exist when it comes to implementing transparency in policy-making. We look forward to sharing key insights from both our federal and provincial discussions soon, as well as a compilation of best practices for governments within the federation to improve transparency.
  • Ultimately, our assessment demonstrates that policy-making across the Canadian federation fares poorly when it comes to the transparency of evidence usage. We find that from the sidelines, it is difficult to discern whether government systems, structures, and resources are in fact delivering on their commitment to implement evidence-informed and transparent policy-making, to its full extent.

Head to the full report here to learn more about our key findings. Join us for the Eyes on Evidence webinar on October 31st, at 12:30pm ET to discuss some of the bigger questions on transparency in evidence-informed decision-making. Register here!

 

 

You can also find the results specific to each province here: