Frequently asked questionsQ: What is the problem your project is intended to solve?
Q. What is the science integrity project?
Q. What do you mean by 'evidence-based public policy decision-making'?
Q. Who is leading this initiative?
Q. How did this project come about?
Q. What's happened so far?
Q. Can you point to any examples of best practices in the use of evidence to inform public policy? Who's doing it right?
Q. What happens next?
Q. What is the problem your project is intended to solve?The Science Integrity Project emerged as a response to concerns from within Canada and from the international community that many public policy decisions made in Canada, across jurisdictions, are not consistently supported by solid information derived from the best available sources of knowledge. While some Canadian jurisdictions do develop policy based on rigorously-produced evidence, there is a growing perception that an increasing number of departments and jurisdictions do not. Of equal concern, the public has no consistent ways of knowing what information has been considered in many important decisions. These suggested trends, if true, undermine the quality of decision-making by governments at all levels, and weaken our democracy.
The concerns in the general public are reflected in the perspectives of government scientists. According to a survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada in 2013, nearly three out of four federal scientists (71%) believe political interference has compromised Canada’s ability to develop policy, law and programs based on scientific evidence. Nearly half (48%) are aware of actual cases in which their department or agency suppressed information, leading to incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading impressions by the public, industry and/or other government officials
While most public discussion has centered on the political dimensions of the issue, additional questions have arisen in the conversation, such as whether Canada has in place adequate mechanisms to get good information to the decision-makers who want it, and in a timely way.
The Science Integrity Project grew out of these concerns, and a) a collective desire to explore the relationship between evidence and decision-making in Canada —beyond rhetoric and with experienced leaders in the field— in order to understand the current situation in greater detail and context, and b) to articulate defensible and feasible Principles for Sound Decision-Making in Canada that draw on the bodies of information generated by science and indigenous knowledge.
Q: What is the Science Integrity Project?The Science Integrity Project has involved over 75 Canadian leaders, scientists, indigenous knowledge holders, policy analysts, current and past representatives of public and Indigenous governments, philanthropists and representatives of non-government organizations, diverse professionals across fields of study, and public intellectuals who have come together to develop and support this groundbreaking "Statement of Principles for Sound Decision-making in Canada".
The Science Integrity Project is inviting others to join us. Everyone with a stake in science integrity – Canadians affected by policy decisions in their communities, academics and scientists, researchers and policy analysts, politicians and decision makers – to make a commitment to do what they can to advance evidence-based decision-making. We are asking Canadians to support the elevation of evidence - from relevant scientific research and indigenous knowledge – to its rightful place in the development and implementation of public policy decisions.
Q. What do you mean by 'evidence-based public policy decision-making'?Evidence-based public policy development requires that policy decisions be based on the best information derived from reliable, reputable, objective research. It also means making the evidence and the rationale for a decision available and easily accessible to the public. Evidence-based decision-making helps to ensure that governments are well informed, and as effective as possible. And making the evidence underlying decisions publicly available (in all but rare cases
Except in rare cases of demonstrated concern regarding privacy and security. For an overview of open access principles see "Concepts of Openness and Open Access" (UNESCO 2015).
There are many ways to formally define this language. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, for example, defines "evidence-based policy" as "a systematic and rational approach to researching and analysing available evidence to inform the policy making process." We would define it similarly.
We are not saying that all government decisions must be exclusively science-driven or based in indigenous knowledge. Other societal factors, including values, are at play. But the public should know transparently what information helped contribute to decisions affecting them, their communities, their health, and their environments.
Q. Who is leading this initiative?The Science Integrity Project is a joint effort. It began with a small planning group that included scientists working at Tides Canada, Evidence for Democracy, International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Wilburforce Foundation, and academics such as the University of Waterloo Chair in Science and Society. Since then, more and more diverse Canadians have played key roles, and now the project is led by an "Implementation Committee" co-chaired by a prominent scientist from Vancouver and a prominent science policy scholar and practitioner from Ottawa. Find out more about the structure of the Science Integrity Project here.
Q. How did this project come about?The organizations that initially led the Science Integrity Project came together around a number of shared concerns about the possible erosion of the use of relevant science and indigenous knowledge in public decision-making. Over the course of the project, we have uncovered evidence that the issue is not as simple or historically recent as it has been portrayed in the media.
The initial planning committee reached out to a wide variety of Canadians interested in these issues, from all provinces and territories, in different sectors (academia, governments, NGOs, industry), concerned with different levels of government (local, provincial, territorial, federal, and Indigenous) who could add insight on the current state of the use of science and indigenous knowledge in policy.
Q. What's happened so far?This initiative has involved several phases of work, including:
Scope of Issues Around the Relationship between Evidence and Decision-Making
In late 2014 and early 2015, we gathered information, did issue scoping, and conducted in-depth interviews with leaders experienced in contributing to or making policy decisions based on evidence. We developed a synthesis report from these interviews, and as a result, drafted guiding principles and practices for evidence-based public policy, which grounded the next step.
National Forum on Evidence-based Decision-Making
From February 2-4, 2015, we convened a national forum in Toronto that brought together nearly 60 scientists and public policy analysts, indigenous knowledge holders, current and past representatives of public and Indigenous governments, philanthropists and representatives of non-government organizations, diverse professionals, public intellectuals and others, to review and refine the draft guiding principles and practices, and to clarify how they might be used to inform and strengthen public policy decision making across Canada.
Statement of Principles and Illustrative Examples
Following the Forum, we conducted several months of refinement to the principles to ensure broad consensus, and general applicability to a range of issues and places, leading to the release of the "Statement of Principles for Sound Decision-making in Canada" on September 28, 2015.
Q. Can you provide examples of best practices in the use of evidence to inform public policy? Who's doing it right?Highlights from the Illustrative Examples Section of the Science Integrity Project:
- Evidence-based drug harm reduction health care services in Vancouver (e.g. Insite)
- Health-in-all policies in Quebec, also being discussed at various levels of government across Canada
- Science-based decision-making in Northwest Territories regarding the Mackenzie Valley
- Bank of Canada's monetary policy, whereby data are directly fed back into policy, in a manner visible to all
- Quebec's system of science advising
- Collaborative management/co-production of management-relevant knowledge in Torngat National Park
- Nunatsiavut Housing Needs Assessment done in collaboration with local communities and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador
- BC's Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). The BCCDC is widely respected for its rapid scientific response to SARS, which included epidemiological analysis of social interactions, rapid response to suspected cases, and vaccine development.
Q. What happens next?Our hope is to work, both as individuals and as a group, in collaboration with people who share our commitment to evidence-based decision-making in the months and years ahead, to advance our shared goals. Please join us!