Mowat Centre: Canada Needs a What Works Centre. Here’s How We Can Build It

Growing demand for services, reduced fiscal capacity and increased public scrutiny of government spending have led to a spike in the demand for systematic, rigorous evidence in policymaking. But governments generally aren’t set up to do the work of carefully connecting evidence to policy. Research is regularly left to policy analysts far removed from decision-making, and without specialized training. Too often the approach is reverse-engineered: evidence is carefully selected to support the direction governments are already intent on taking.

Enter the evidence institution. Evidence institutions, which can exist within or outside government, possess the technical expertise to review and produce robust policy research, and have the attention of the public and policy-makers. Long the norm in areas such as healthcare, evidence institutions are now popping up in many other policy areas, in response to demand for better evidence to guide decision-making.

For example, the UK government has established a network of eight “What Works” institutions since 2010 that are focused on the generation, transmission and adoption of evidence for a particular policy area – from early childhood development and crime reduction, to healthy aging and local economic development. There are other examples.

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