Evidence Based Policy Research Project (2020)

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.

For the third year running, independent research undertaken by two philosophically opposed Right and Left think tanks finds that basic standards of evidence and consultation-based policy making are only loosely followed by Australian federal and state governments. Nevertheless, there was an improvement on last year’s results.

In a ‘double blind’ exercise 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 assess the same set of 20 policies drawn from around the country. Again, it is clear that organisations with very different policy outlooks can agree on when a good process is followed in developing policy regardless of whether they agree with the result. It would appear from this that parliaments should be equally able to reach bi-partisan agreement on a process.

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.

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