Today’s major social policy issues – from homelessness to early childhood development – rely on evidence-informed policies and practices to maximize impact. This much is already accepted by policymakers, practitioners and funders.
The current challenge is how to move from talking about using evidence to guide policy and practice, to actually doing it consistently – and well. In recent months, Mowat NFP, along with a number of partner organizations, has tackled this question in a major international conference held in Regina, two context-setting reports leading up to the conference, and a follow-up convening event in Toronto.
The results of this project, along with comprehensive case studies analyzing promising examples, are presented in detail in a new report, Committing to Action: Next Steps for Canada’s Evidence Ecosystem. Below we present the key takeaways from this work.
Challenges and Promising Practices
If everyone agrees that placing social policy on an evidence-informed footing is so important, why does movement in this direction seem so slow? Our research found a number of key challenges, grouped under five major considerations. At the same time, experience from the UK, the US, and Canada highlights a number of promising practices that show how to overcome these challenges.
More detail is provided in the full report.
How to acquire the resources, human capital and organizational infrastructure required to create high-quality evidence?
Aligning efforts against standards or hierarchies of evidence
Engaging end users in research design
Generating evidence that can meaningfully inform policymaking processes and service delivery
Building shared data infrastructure
Developing frontline technical expertise
Sharing and linking data for maximum impact
Using thought leadership organizations as intermediaries to build capacity for generating evidence
Assessing the suitability of existing standards or hierarchies of evidence
Creating space for different “ways of knowing” to account for different cultural and knowledge traditions
Drawing upon the lived experience of beneficiaries to ensure evidence is relevant, reflects their cultural wisdom, and is used effectively
Building community-driven, Nation-based data governance when handling First Nations data, to respect First Nations data sovereignty
How to ensure that evidence is accessible, understandable and useful to stakeholders?
Distilling complex data into action-oriented findings
Engaging end users in knowledge translation processes
Validating that the evidence produced is accessible to users
Using advocates and champions within existing networks to communicate and translate evidence
Working to the scale and capacity of the evidence institution
How to facilitate links to the policymaking process and promoting uptake of evidence?
Identifying appropriate incentives
Creating feedback loops for policy development processes
Building government capacity to utilize evidence
Sustaining meaningful engagement and fostering trusting relationships with policymakers
Bridging to the policy process
Tapping into technical expertise to help policymakers build capacity and fill gaps
What are the best funding models to invest in capacity building, expand use of evidence and scale up promising practices?
Sustaining and diversifying funding sources
Linking emerging non-traditional funding models, like social finance, to existing organizations
Facilitating readiness of non-profit organizations for outcomes-based funding arrangements
Embedding evidence requirements into government funding processes
Matching the funding committed to evidence institutions with the intended outcomes of those institutions
Exploring long-term funding models for evidence institutions
Using evidence to drive outcomes-based funding
How to best facilitate innovation and experimentation in the use of evidence?
Funding innovative and experimental approaches
Constraining legislative and regulatory frameworks
Introducing public service experimentation directives
Engaging UK intermediary organizations with experience as “incubators” of new What Works Centres to serve a similar role in Canada
Our research underscores that strengthening Canada’s evidence ecosystem is an undertaking both ambitious and timely. Achieving this will require action by, and meaningful collaboration between, federal and provincial governments, philanthropic funders/research councils, social sector umbrella and intermediary organizations, and individual service delivery organizations. Relationships, trust, and meaningful engagement are a foundational element of any such action.
Based on our research, we recommend a set of actions for each of these stakeholders to move Canada forward in transforming its evidence ecosystem.
Test the What Works Centre model with a Canadian evidence institution linked to the What Works Network
Allocate dedicated funding to strengthening Canada’s evidence ecosystem
Introduce enabling legislation to facilitate evidence-based policymaking at the federal and provincial level
Create data liaisons/teams within government departments to work with social sector organizations on data-sharing and capacity building
Philanthropic Funders/Research Councils
Create an incubator to build evidence capacity among social sector organizations and government departments
Scale up incentives for academics to embed knowledge translation activities as part of their research with support from evidence institutions/incubators
Increase evaluation budgets in existing grants for social sector organizations to assist with capacity building and technical assistance
Pilot grant programs for social sector organizations to engage end users/beneficiaries in research design, data collection and analysis
Support ‘vertical’ leadership development in the sector
Social Sector Umbrella and Intermediary Organizations
Work at the sub-sector level to align against a shared standard of evidence, where possible
Provide more intentional support for convening, capacity building, technical advice, and sharing promising practices at the sector and sub-sector level
Social Sector Organizations
Develop an “evidence strategy” for the social sector at the organizational and sub-sector level
The Way Forward
The decisions made by social sector organizations, funders and policymakers can have a profound and lasting impact on people’s lives and the communities they live in. It is incumbent on all stakeholders to ensure these decisions are the best that they can be. Committing to action towards a stronger evidence ecosystem in Canada is the next step forward.