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Evidence for Democracy
November 26, 2020
Emma Bugg on how Evidence for Democracy is working to ensure we have a national democratic culture that recognizes the importance of science.
Tell us about Evidence for Democracy (E4D). How would you describe its purpose and what makes it unique?
Evidence for Democracy is the leading non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. Here at E4D we believe that when decisions are based on the best available evidence, we all benefit. Through an original research program, a suite of training and educational resources, and issue-based public engagement campaigns, we hold the government to account and work to bridge the gap between government decision-makers and the best available evidence.
E4D was founded during the Harper era when the federal government was slashing funding for science and muzzling government scientists. At the time, scientists in Canada started organizing and engaging in public advocacy like we hadn’t seen before in this country. It became clear that sustained work around support for science and evidence-based decision-making were needed in Canada and E4D was formed. While we have come a long way since those early years, and much has changed in the landscape of decision-making here in Canada, there is still much work to do to ensure we have a robust, well-informed decision-making process, and a national culture that recognizes the importance of science to our well-being.
While there are certainly other organizations in Canada working on issues around science policy, including a number of great student-led groups such as the Toronto Science Policy Network and Science and Policy Exchange, E4D is unique in its approach to advancing the use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada.
We are all navigating the global pandemic in different ways. What’s a key insight from how E4D is responding to the crisis?
We have been really lucky throughout this pandemic in that we were able to make the transition to remote work early on and relatively seamlessly. We have now been working from home since the middle of March and have been able to push forward both on our projects that were already underway when the pandemic hit, as well as on new work contributing to the COVID-19 response. In that work, our priority has been to make evidence-based information on COVID-19 accessible for our community. We have done this in a number of ways including through a living blog post of evidence-based resources on COVID-19 which we update on an ongoing basis, as well as two panel events: one looking at the role of the science community in the COVID-19 response in Canada, and another looking at Canada’s data needs for the ongoing response and eventual recovery.
This crisis has been such a relevant example of the importance of evidence-based decision-making, and the public has both witnessed and experienced the effects of a variety of approaches to responding to the pandemic in real time. We have learned a lot about both the public’s value for science, and the difficulty in communicating science and the reasoning behind challenging decision-making to the public in the midst of such a dynamic crisis.
Now, we are even more deeply rooted in our mission of ensuring that Canada has strong mechanisms in place to protect evidence-based decision-making throughout the policy process to protect the well-being of all both now, as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and into the future, to prepare us for the ongoing fight against the climate crisis, and all other challenges to come.
Over the past few months we have seen groups seize this moment of uncertainty to advance racial and economic justice in their communities. How is this affecting your work?
Like for so many others, the movement that is taking place right now has called us to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of learning antiracist thinking and behaviour. For me, this has meant self-education, reflecting on and learning from the past, and more conscious thinking about how to understand the intersections of what I’m learning with our work as an organization.
As an organization, moving forward on this work means bringing this learning process into our day-to-day. Thinking more about who our community is, how we serve and interact with them, and thinking about which voices we are highlighting as expertise.
In particular, we learned a lot from our panelists at this recent event about the critical data gaps that exist around race in relation to COVID-19 and the significant impact that has on how government decisions are serving, or not serving, different communities. This has also reinvigorated our determination that, as we tackle key challenges such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis, a just transition must be central to our approach. There is no recovery without rethinking and rebuilding the systems that are racist by design.
What’s one big challenge you see Canada’s democracy facing? How are you working on this challenge, what solutions do you propose?
One of the major challenges we are concerned with here at E4D is misinformation. Misinformation is a major and growing threat around the world, and it presents critical challenges for our democracy. A functioning democracy requires that citizens have a shared reality based on agreed upon facts to form the basis of discussion on issues we all care about. When misinformation becomes prevalent, that shared foundation can crack.
To respond to this challenge, we created the Truth Pledge. The Truth Pledge is a personal commitment to push back against misinformation to help slow its spread, and reduce its impact on public discourse and decision-making. Signers of the Truth Pledge receive our Truth Toolkit (which is also available for free on our website), which outlines tangible tools and steps we can all take to combat misinformation. In addition to the pledge and toolkit, we have hosted a number of webinars outlining steps we can all take to combat misinformation, and why it’s so important that we do so.
We are now in the middle of a new research project to better understand the existing body of knowledge on misinformation, develop new training tools to aid the scientific community in combatting misinformation, and looking at policy solutions for combating misinformation on a larger scale. Stay tuned for more on that in the new year!
Could you share an idea or initiative related to increasing civic engagement or democratic participation that inspires you? This could be related to your work or something you see happening in the sector.
A major part of our work is providing training to scientists and others who are passionate about science and its importance to strong decision-making. Our past trainings include “Science Policy 101”, “Science Communication 101”, “How to write a briefing note”, and more, and our toolkits include “Connecting with your political representatives” and “Federal Budget Toolkit”. All of those resources and more are available for free on our website. For me, one of the most inspiring parts of this work is hearing stories from folks we have supported about the great work they’ve done in their communities to engage with their elected representatives and their peers, to get science on the agenda.
Ultimately, what we want to see is a science community that is empowered with the skills and tools required to connect with elected representatives, really closing that gap between decision-makers and relevant expertise. This is why these stories are so rewarding. You can find two great examples of this on our blog here and here.
Tell us about how E4D is making its work more inclusive and building engagement with different communities. Any tips or lessons to share with others in the sector about decreasing barriers to participation?
First, we feel strongly about offering our training resources and toolkits for free. While we do offer opportunities for customized training at a price, the webinars and toolkits in our main suite of training resources will always remain free. Everyone should be able to engage with their elected officials, and it is our mission to build the skills required to do that effectively in the scientific community.
One of the things I am working on right now is making our events and online resources more accessible. So far, this work is happening mostly internally, and we’ve been really lucky to have the support of a number of volunteers with valuable expertise who have offered their time and skills to help us work on this. This has become a higher priority for us recently in particular due to the shift to conducting all of our work virtually. We want to make sure all those who are interested are able to engage with our work. We are also very open to feedback on this so we welcome conversations from anyone who wants to reach out (email@example.com) and share insight on how we can improve that accessibility.
For people looking to engage with you, how can they get involved? Who can they contact?
There are lots of different ways to support this work of strengthening the landscape of evidence-based decision-making in Canada. For more info on any of these, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
- Donate. We are largely a donor supported organization and donations of any size go a long way to support our work. The best way to provide financial support is through a recurring monthly donation. These gifts offer us sustainability and allow us to plan ahead! You can donate here.
- Participate in our campaigns. We often run public engagement campaigns on issues such as science integrity, research funding, and climate. You can take part by writing a letter to your representative, Tweeting, and more. Find all of our current campaigns here.
- Volunteer. As a small organization, we greatly appreciate the support of our community of volunteers. If you’re interested in offering your time and skills to our work, you can sign up to volunteer here.
- Join our Network of Experts. E4D’s Network of Experts is a community of scientists, health experts, engineers, researchers, economists, and other scientific specialists that help educate the public and connect decision-makers with the expertise they need to make informed decisions based on the best available evidence. For more information and to join the network, visit our website.
- Follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter. To stay up to date on everything we are working on, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and sign up for our newsletter.
Evidence for Democracy is the leading non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. Through an original research program, a suite of training and educational resources, and issue-based public engagement campaigns, we hold the government to account and work to bridge the gap between government decision-makers and the best available evidence. Our vision is to see strong public policies, built on the best available evidence, for the health and prosperity of all; a thriving democracy where citizens are informed and engaged, and all levels of government are both transparent and accountable; and a national culture that values science and evidence and the important role they play in our society.
This is an unprecedented moment for democracy in Canada so we created Sector Spotlight to learn about how leading practitioners are responding to it. Have ideas for our next Sector Spotlight? Get in touch!
Emma Bugg, Communications and Campaign Manager
Emma Bugg graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of International Studies. The same year, she completed social and environmental justice leadership training through the Next Up leadership program. Emma has served as a Board Member for SaskOutdoors, an organization promoting outdoor education, and has worked as an Associate Editor for the University of Saskatchewan Undergraduate Research Journal. She has worked on various energy conservation and waste management public-education campaigns throughout Saskatchewan. In 2017, she moved to Ottawa and joined Evidence for Democracy as a Research Assistant, she is now their Communications and Engagement Coordinator.