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New report finds that policy-making across Canada scores low on transparency of evidence usage

In a new report, titled “Eyes On Evidence III: An assessment of the transparency of evidence usage across provincial policy announcements,” Evidence for Democracy (E4D) evaluated over 100 policies issued by the governments of Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan to determine whether the public can find and understand the evidence used to make policy decisions.
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For more information, contact:

Caitlin Fowler
Senior Research Associate, Evidence for Democracy
Phone: 613-282-9219

Ottawa – Similar to earlier work examining federal policies, E4D found that provincial policies scored low on the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it is difficult for people across Canada to find the evidence behind government policy.

“Our Eyes On Evidence series asks the question: can the evidence behind policy decisions be found by the public?” said Dr. Caitlin Fowler, a Senior Research Associate at E4D. “We began, in Eyes on Evidence II, by looking at federal policies, which scored low on the transparency of evidence usage in all ten of the departments and agencies we evaluated. But in Canada, policy-making is distributed across federal, provincial, territorial and municipal jurisdictions, as well as Indigenous self-government. This is why we turned our attention to the provincial level next.”

E4D’s provincial assessment found that policies often failed to mention the evidence used to make a decision, let alone provided a reference or citation for any evidence mentioned. Almost all policies scored poorly in the testing and evaluation section (i.e., to determine how and when a policy has worked) of E4D’s transparency framework, and rarely explored the merits of alternative policy options, or acknowledged any absent, weak or contradictory evidence. In particular, policies from the Government of Saskatchewan scored very poorly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the power and peril of the many interconnected governments within a federated system. When evidence is made transparent in policy-making, the public has the opportunity to scrutinize the relationship between evidence and public policy and consider whether they agree with the decisions shaping their lives.

“We all benefit when governments make policy decisions informed by the best available evidence. In fact, virtually every policy issue that our elected representatives face can benefit from evidence, especially as we consider the complexity of the ever-growing challenges we must confront as a society,” said Dr. Vanessa Sung, E4D’s Interim Executive Director. “Asking for transparency in policy-making may be ambitious, but communicating the evidence used to make policy decisions shouldn’t just be a bonus added on when time and resources permit. We must place evidence at the heart of public policy.”

Read the full report.

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