E4D found that federal policies scored low on the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it’s difficult for the public to find the evidence behind government policy.
“In Eyes On Evidence, we asked: can the evidence behind policy decisions be found by the lay public?” said Farah Qaiser, E4D’s Director of Research and Policy. “It’s an important question because government policy is in essence a public good. Policy-making must be as transparent as possible so that we can understand what considerations lead to a decision, and why.”
In recent years, the Government of Canada has repeatedly committed to using the best available science and evidence in its decision-making. Mandate letters issued to Cabinet ministers in 2015, 2019 and 2021 have all stated a commitment to the “use of science and evidence-based decision-making.”
E4D’s assessment found that policies often failed to provide a reference or citation for any evidence mentioned. Almost all policies scored poorly in the testing and evaluation section (i.e., to know how and when a policy has worked), and rarely explored the merits of alternative policy options, or acknowledged any absent, weak or contradictory evidence.
If the public is to assess what progress has been made in this endeavour, individuals must be given the opportunity to scrutinize the relationship between evidence and policy decisions. This gives citizens the chance to consider whether they agree with how evidence is being used to formulate public policy. In this sense, transparency is crucial.
“Being upfront about the evidence shaping policy is one way for governments to demonstrate that they trust the public to grasp the realities of an issue, even when decisions are being made within margins of uncertainty, contradictory evidence, or gaps in knowledge,” said Rachael Maxwell, E4D’s Executive Director. “We all need to get a lot more comfortable in admitting there are no absolutes, not in science and not in public policy, but that we are making decisions with what we know and don’t know at that moment.”
Read the full report: https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en/research/reports/eyes-evidence-ii