The November 2017 Symposium event convened by newDemocracy sought to challenge opinion leaders by asking them what practical testable improvements could be made to our democracy in order to improve public trust in how we take public decisions. It sought to move the discussion from one of complaint about problems into one of potential solutions. This project is one of the leading ideas which emerged from this two-day event.
Many participants – spanning company directors, the advocacy sector, journalists and even former MPs – lamented that “evidenced based policy making” had become an empty phrase which everyone claimed to pursue but no one knew how to quantify. A proposal was championed by former Secretary of the NSW Treasury, Percy Allan, to draw on work from 2012 by Prof. Ken Wiltshire from the University of Queensland in work originally produced for the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) which did attempt to set forth such a standard.
While it is one thing to author a standard, the greater challenge is to see that standard accepted. As a result, this research project sought to stress test whether a meaningful, widely-accepted standard for evidence-based policy making could be achievable by asking two think-tanks known to have very different views to test 20 major policies and see if they could find common ground whether a standard was being adhered to.
The research was conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a self-described ‘free-market’ think tank identified with the Right of politics, and Per Capita Australia, a self-labelled ‘progressive’ think tank identified with the Left. It is rare (we can’t find a precedent) to see such different think-tanks participate in a joint project such as this and their openness to the idea is appreciated.
nDF explicitly acknowledge that the assessment task is subjective – and that quality of compliance is not being measured within the scope of this demonstration project. To illustrate, while all agree the Green Paper/ White Paper process is of high value, no effort was made to discern between the obvious difference in quality of a 4-pg paper and a 90-pg paper canvassing multiple sources and multiple policy options. This project is an effort to take a first step and see whether a basic standard could be agreed which political participants might reasonably accept. The IPA and Per Capita reports find ~90% agreement in testing this.
It is emphasised that this standard is not being held out as an unchallengeable ‘perfect’ ideal. Rather, the Wiltshire standard exists as a solid and fair basis for a starting point given that the author and the commissioning entity were not viewed by nDF as having any significant bias influencing its drafting. The result of this exercise means that the convening of a range of think-tanks who are active politically could feasibly be convened to agree to ‘Wiltshire 2.0’ if the desire for a standard is seen as a positive development.
Evidence-based policy making is a phrase everyone likes to use with no agreed standard of what it actually is. If we can have parties agree some basic standards in the policy process, then we are one step closer to being able to make more widely trusted decisions at all levels of government.
Update June 2019 – NSW Parliament
Following advocacy to all parties, the following debate took place in the NSW Parliament on 20 June 2019 https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/permalink?id=HANSARD-1820781676-79292
This has now been referred to the Standing Orders & Procedures Committee to identify the path for implementation.
This project was made possible by three equal donations made to fund this project. We thank Percy Allan, EY and the Susan McKinnon Foundation for this philanthropy. Full details of our funding disclosures can be found here.
Project Steering Committee
This project was commissioned on the direction of the newDemocracy Research Committee.
Its day to day operation, delivery and oversight was handled by a Steering Committee (listed below) spanning a diversity of views. We thank them for their voluntary commitment of time.
- Professor Percy Allan AM, Chair of the Steering Committee.
- Glenn Barnes, Chairman of Ansell Limited and Non-Executive Director of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation.
- Peter Doukas, Chair of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW and Managing Director of law firm Denison Toyer.
- Verity Firth, Executive Director of Social Justice for the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
- Janice Lee, Director, Infrastructure Advisory, EY (replacing Peter Crone, Chief Economist, EY after he became Principal Adviser to the Federal Treasurer).
- Sam Mellett, Director of the Susan McKinnon Foundation which sponsors research into bold new solutions to entrenched problems.
- Kirsty Nowlan, Executive Director of Strategic Engagement, Research, and Advocacy at the Benevolent Society.
A project editorial panel reviewed the findings:
- Dr Kenneth Wiltshire AO, J.D. Story Professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland and author of several books on public administration.
- Percy Allan AM, Principal, Percy Allan & Associates Pty Ltd, a public policy consultancy, and Visiting Professor, Macquarie Graduate School of Management.[i]
- Martin Stewart-Weeks, Principal, Public Purpose, an independent advisory practice working at the intersection of government, policy, technology and innovation.
Independent Think Tanks
- Emma Dawson, Executive Director and Abigail Lewis, Research Associate, Per Capita Australia, a progressive think tank.
- Simon Breheny, Director of Policy and Matthew Lesh, Research Fellow, Institute of Public Affairs Australia (IPA), a free-market think tank.
- Professor Peter Shergold AC, National President, Institute of Public Administration Australia for permitting reproduction of charts from the IPAA publication Public Policy Drift, 2012.
The Sydney Morning Herald – One Nation and Animal Justice forge ‘unholy alliance’
‘Half-baked’: Opposing think-tanks unite to condemn policy failures
The Age – ‘Half-baked’: Opposing think-tanks unite to condemn policy failures
The Australian Financial Review – Finally, something left and right can agree on: Evidence-based policy
The Mandarin – In praise of proper public policy process: if professional pundits can agree, can’t we all?
[i] Disclaimer: Professor Percy Allan because of a professional conflict of interest exempted himself from consideration of the NSW local council mergers and the greyhound racing ban case studies.