One of the impressions I have of many of the government ministries is that they act on “you say jump, I ask how high” kind of arrangement. We seem to see this particularly strongly in the Ministry of Transport where staff appear to have gone to almost extraordinary lengths in the past to paint projects like the City Rail Link in a bad light while giving uneconomic RoNS projects a free pass, all of which is strongly in line with the positions taken by government ministers. (Note: MoT staff we know you read the blog so if you want to refute this feel free to provide information to the contrary)
So it’s interesting to see this article about a report by the Prime Ministers Chief Science Advisor suggesting a similar thing and recommending there be a similar position to his be created in a number of agencies including in the Ministry of Transport.
In a report on the role of evidence in policy formation and implementation, Gluckman reports a highly variable approach to the use of scientifically rigorous evidence in recommending, implementing and assessing the impacts of new public policy.
In some cases, senior public servants seemed to prefer “to work from their own beliefs or rely on their own experience.”
“At its extreme, I find this deficiency to be unacceptable,” he said, noting concern also about departments that rely “primarily on internal research of questionable quality and/or commissioning external advice that was not scientifically peer-reviewed.”
While there was excellent practice in some parts of the public service, but “some policy practitioners held the view that their primary role was to fulfil ministerial directives, rather than to provide an evidence-informed range of policy options on which Ministers could develop a position.”
“Surprisingly, this was held in some departments that most need to use objective evidence in their day-to-day operation,” Gluckman says.
Without naming names, he recommends the appointment of chief science advisors to the Ministries of Health, Education, Business, Innovation and Employment, Transport, and the Department of Internal Affairs.
It would be interesting to see what Gluckman – or someone in a position to push for evidence based policy – would say about current plans like the RoNS being built despite falling or flat lining vehicle ownership, kilometres travelled, licenses issued and even in many cases daily traffic volumes.
Equally it would be interesting to hear what they have to say about the impacts of current/proposed policies have on other areas like health, the environment or a number of other areas.
Of course this doesn’t mean the government’s policies would change but it would hopefully mean is much better information out in the public domain about the true impacts of the decisions that are made.