After two years of research on the transparency of the evidence used in government decisions, we know that Canada has a transparency problem when it comes to policy-making. More specifically, it’s very difficult for the public to find the evidence used to justify policy decisions, which raises red flags for our democracy.
Government transparency is essential to a healthy democracy. Transparency gives citizens the opportunity to see what factors go into policy decisions, evaluate the rationale for themselves, and ultimately, hold their elected leaders accountable for making decisions informed by the best available evidence. Without government transparency, citizens get shortchanged on the important dialogues on policy decisions that they have a right to engage in.
In light of our results from the Eyes on Evidence research series, which revealed that evidence transparency is lacking across both federal and provincial governments in Canada, we went to public servants, political staffers, and elected representatives to discuss our findings and to better understand the internal challenges or barriers that impede transparency in policy-making. A What We Heard report was released late last year, summarizing insights gleaned from these discussions. Many pointed to uncertainty around whether the public had an appetite for evidence, and what level of information was appropriate to share with the public.
It goes without saying that when debating the needs of the public, public opinion matters. So we set out to take a temperature check on transparency and asked: Where does the Canadian public stand on the current state of evidence-informed decision-making?
The verdict is in. In our new study: “Attitudes towards government use of evidence among the Canadian public”, we surveyed a representative population of 1,524 Canadians and found that 81% want to see key evidence used in government decision-making so they can better understand and evaluate the decisions for themselves.
What else did we learn about the public’s perceptions on evidence used in federal and provincial government decision-making?
Poll results infographic by Evidence for Democracy
There is strong public appetite for evidence. In a world where decision-making is becoming increasingly complex, people are keen to see the evidence behind policy decisions, especially when those decisions impact their lives. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, decision-making at all levels of government was thrust into the limelight, and public interest and engagement in scientific evidence skyrocketed. The unprecedented public attention on the role of science in policy decisions resulted in increased efforts by governments to more proactively share the information and rationale behind their decisions with citizens.
But in a strong democracy, taking a transparent and evidence-informed approach to government decision-making should not be reserved for times of crisis. From policies on transit fares to climate change to affordable housing, science and evidence are critical considerations that cannot be overshadowed by political priority and ideology. Citizens should have the necessary information to actively engage with the policy-making process, so that we can hold our elected representatives accountable for putting forward policies informed by the best available science and evidence, for the benefit of all Canadians.
This project is being conducted in partnership with the Evidence to Action Research Institute. We thank the Trottier Family Foundation for making this work possible.