We conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) to investigate how they gather and use information. The study aimed to better understand how MPs use research and evidence in their work, identify potential gaps in the process, and determine new ways that scientists, researchers, and experts could support MPs.
There was a lot of variability in the process of how MPs gathered information. However, MPs valued information that is credible and relevant.
- MPs got their information from a wide variety of sources, and the process varied widely, depending on MP focus areas, needs, etc.
- However, most MPs (94%) view the Library of Parliament as a trusted source of credible, relevant information.
- Google and mainstream media were common starting points to gather information.
- Many MPs valued talking to people directly, including constituents (71%), experts (71%), and their peers in caucus (47%). 88% of MPs got information from external organizations, although the specific trusted organizations varied from one MP to another.
Although credibility was the most valuable factor to MPs, how credibility is evaluated varies across MPs.
- Some of the ways in which MPs evaluated a source for credibility included checking the credentials of the source, evaluating whether expertise matched the content of information, assessing for bias, double-checking with trusted individuals, and tracking down the original information source. For example, several MPs expressed that institutions or universities were trustworthy sources.
- Several MPs expressed a preference for information that was free of bias, including partisan or political bias.
Research and evidence were considered valuable to MPs
E.g. to make arguments stronger, shed new light on information, verify or check information. However, MPs did not have a unified perspective of what “research” was.
- Most broadly, they defined it as information that was collected/reviewed in a systematic way (65%) and from a reputable source (53%) but included everything from talking to constituents, to academic literature, to research by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to news media.
- The sources of “research” varied, but most commonly were Library of Parliament and committees. Other common sources of research included talking directly to experts and external organizations. 41% of MPs reported going directly to the academic literature.
MPs described a wide range of challenges relating to the use of science and evidence in their work.
- Managing time restrictions and information overload was most common. 59% of MPs also described the challenge of navigating information that had spin or bias.
- Conflicting findings also posed a challenge, from conflicting scientific results, to conflict between the perspectives, views, and experiences of constituents, on the one hand, and scientific findings, on the other hand.
- There was discussion of how politics is never fully “evidence-based” because so many other factors have to work into decisions.
- Lack of resources was also a challenge (staff, time, money).
Recommendations to better connect science and research to parliamentarians:
Linking researchers to committees
MPs often used committees as an example of where research and evidence were useful and used often (e.g., expert witnesses). But scientists are largely unaware of the committee process. Supporting scientists to participate in committee work could lead to improved use of evidence in policy-making.
Improving direct access to experts
Many MPs said they preferred talking directly to scientists and experts and relied on trusted sources. This could be improved by creating better catalogues and databases of researchers across Canada and encouraging scientists to form direct relationships with their MPs.
Making research relevant to policy-maker
MPs stressed that they are more likely to use research if it is directly relevant to their work. Framing research in a way that is accessible and of interest to MPs can help bridge gaps (e.g., being familiar with the issues that matter to the decision-maker in question).
Engagement in policy and government issues
Many MPs encouraged researchers to engage more with their elected representatives and inform themselves about policy. This included forming relationships with MPs/staff and being aware of the political cycle and current issues of interest to parliamentarians.
Improved resources to bolster research capabilities
Given the importance of resources such as the Library of Parliament, more financial support should be given to improve the capacity of the Library and of the parliamentary research staff.