New tool aims to boost policymaking transparency

Institute for Government finds it is "much harder than it should be" to establish evidence base for public policymaking – and launches new tool to help officials

By Suzannah Brecknell

22 Oct 2015

Departments are not setting out the evidence-base for policy decisions clearly enough, according to a report published by the Institute for Government.

The report, developed after Cabinet Office policy adviser David Halpern suggested the IfG should come up with a way to assess how departments are using evidence to support policymaking, found that "it is much harder than it should be to establish not just the reasoning behind a government policy, but also, more prosaically, what a policy is."

Researchers found that "the presentation of government activity in a policy area on GOV.UK is not helpful" and it is a "near impossible task" to get an overview of existing government policy and the processes that lie behind it. "This is not a good position for a government committed to transparency," they concluded.

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In response to Halpern's challenge, the IfG is launching a framework which it hopes will help departments communicate their policymaking process – and the evidence behind it – more clearly. The framework will also allow outsiders to assess how transparent a particular department is about policymaking.

The report recommends that heads of the policy profession, working with communications colleagues and the GDS, "should develop a better way to present ‘policy’ and, in particular, policy changes to the public, in a way that gives a clear line of sight between initial proposal and final decisions."

It also suggests departments change the way they respond to consultations, adopting an approach used by the Committee of Advertising Practice, which makes it " clear on what basis it is accepting or rejecting recommendations". 

MPs should play a greater role in improving policy making transparency, says the report, noting that: "One way is to have specific evidence-check exercises – however, asking questions about the rationale behind policy choices should be core work for committees."

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