Decision makers are more interested in making evidence-driven choices, report finds

John Lavis is sitting at a table and smiling

McMaster Health Forum director John Lavis is co-lead of the secretariat of the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, which has released a report that finds a shift in responses to the pandemic shows the need to provide governments and leaders with similar high-quality evidence to address other pressing issues.

Governments and other decision makers are showing an unprecedented interest in using evidence to inform their response to not only COVID-19 but other emerging crises, a new report shows, highlighting the need to ensure high-quality evidence remains consistently available to decision makers as they address societal challenges.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve never before seen so much interest – from political leaders of many political persuasions and in diverse countries – in drawing on evidence to inform their response,” said John Lavis, Director of the McMaster Health Forum and co-lead of the secretariat of the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, which released the report this month.

“This is an incredible opportunity to dramatically up our game in supporting political leaders to use evidence to address societal challenges at a global, national and local level.”

The report notes that “slow burn” challenges like educational achievement, health-system performance and climate change took a back seat to the pandemic, but “the cohort of decision makers who were involved in COVID-19 decision-making, especially high-level government policymakers, now has direct experience with using many forms of evidence and with leveraging strategies that support its use.”

The report makes 24 recommendations, calling for decisive action by multiple stakeholders to ensure evidence is consistently used to address societal challenges. These include:

  • Wake-up call: Decision-makers, evidence intermediaries and impact-oriented evidence producers should recognize the scale and nature of the problem.
  • Resolution by multilateral organizations: The UN, the G20 and other multilateral organizations should endorse a resolution that commits them and their member states to broaden their conception of evidence, and to support evidence-related global public goods and equitably distributed capacities to produce, share and use evidence.
  • Landmark report: The World Bank should dedicate an upcoming World Development Report to providing the design of the evidence architecture needed globally, regionally and nationally, including the required investments in evidence related global public goods and in equitably distributed capacities to produce, share and use evidence.
  • National (and sub-national) evidence-support systems: Every government should review its existing evidence-support system and broader evidence infrastructure, fill the gaps both internally and through partnerships, and report publicly on their progress.
  • Evidence in everyday life: Individuals and families should consider making decisions about their well-being based on best evidence; spending their money on products and services backed by best evidence; volunteering their time and donating money to initiatives that use evidence to make decisions about what they do and how they do it; and supporting politicians who commit to using best evidence to address societal challenges and who commit to supporting the use of evidence in everyday life.
  • Dedicated evidence intermediaries: Dedicated evidence intermediaries should step forward to fill gaps left by government, provide continuity if staff turnover in government is frequent, and leverage strong connections to global networks.
  • News and social-media platforms: News and social-media platforms should build relationships with dedicated evidence intermediaries who can help leverage sources of best evidence, and with evidence producers who can help communicate evidence effectively, as well as ensure their algorithms present best evidence and combat misinformation.
  • Funding: Governments, foundations and other funders should spend “smarter” on evidence support. They can commit to ensuring that 1 per cent of funding is allocated to national and sub-national evidence infrastructures.

About the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges

The Evidence Commission grew out of a global network of 55 partners—the COVID-19 Evidence Network to support Decision-making (COVID-END), which came together to provide a more coordinated evidence response to COVID-19 and first identified the need for the commission.

The Evidence Commission brings together 25 commissioners, including government policymakers, organizational leaders, professionals and citizens who address a range of societal challenges in their respective roles. The commission is funded by partners in three countries and its secretariat is hosted at the McMaster Health Forum, known for its agility, collaborative spirit, and impact orientation.

This work further builds on McMaster’s commitment to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and to create a healthier, brighter world. The McMaster Health Forum and McMaster University are members of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative that mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement. The Evidence Commission report looks at how we can better respond to broader societal challenges and future crises.

The Evidence Commission report: A wake-up call and path forward for decision-makers, evidence intermediaries, and impact-oriented evidence producers will be available in seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. The report chapters as well as individual infographics (or sections) will also be available.

To stay up-to-date on developments about the report and other Evidence Commission news, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. You will also be able to access recordings of the launch webinars in multiple languages on the Evidence Commission website.

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