Ottawa, June 17, 2021
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian governments at every level have been called upon to make extraordinary decisions to curb the spread of the virus. While these decisions have been made to prioritize the health and safety of citizens, they have often been unpopular and a source of frustration. This tension between government decisions and the citizenry has highlighted a persistent challenge for contemporary democracy: can the public access and understand the evidence base behind the decisions made on its behalf?
In the report “Eyes on Evidence: A framework for evaluating evidence use in Canada,” Evidence for Democracy (E4D) set out to adapt and test a framework to assess the transparency of evidence in government decisions. Originally developed by the UK-based organization Sense About Science, the framework presented in this report marks the first phase of a two-part project.
“Transparency is a key ingredient of the democratic process. Being clear about the evidence used to inform policy allows people to understand why decisions are being made, and to hold their elected representatives to account” said Dr. Tej Heer, E4D’s Senior Research Associate. “Accessing and understanding the evidence base that informs policy decisions is critical for any government looking to improve transparency with the public it serves, which is why we set out to adapt this framework in Canada.”
The adapted framework assesses if the public can see what evidence was used to inform a policy and how it was used. It scores policies on a sliding scale, with the highest scores awarded to policies that deal with contradictions or uncertainty in the evidence base. The framework was tested on a sample of policies to test its effectiveness in the Canadian context.
“With this report, we are really inviting governments in Canada to think critically about transparency and how it relates to decisions made on behalf of the public,” commented Rachael Maxwell, Executive Director at E4D. “We hear a lot of signaling from elected officials about using the best available science and evidence in their decisions, which is an important first step. But if we want to meaningfully advance evidence-informed decision-making in this country, the transparency of evidence is mission critical.”
In phase two of this work, E4D will conduct a systematic assessment of the Canadian government to assess the transparency of evidence-use in federal departments and agencies. Policies selected at random will be assessed according to the framework laid out in phase one and will result in an overall grade for each department or agency.
The full report can be found at: http://bit.ly/eyesonevidence