Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Evidence-based policy for the Global Financial Crisis

Gary BanksGary Banks, Chairman, Productivity Commission, gave an interesting, informative and very timely Public Lecture in Canberra this evening on "Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?". This is timely as a few kilometers away Parliament was debating spending billions of dollars, to address the Global Financial Crisis, with minimal analysis and little evidence to support either side of the debate. On the surface "evidence based policy" seems a tautology: how could you propose policy not based on any evidence? However, Mr. Banks took use through some of the not so obvious issues with the process.

At question time I asked about the use of online systems and cross agency resources to make the process quicker and more efficient. I used the example of the Environment Department, who on Tuesday hosed a meeting of industry on how to reduce energy use. One way I suggested to reduce energy use was to conduct such consultation online so the participants did not need to fly to Canberra.

Given that the Productivity Commission has a mandate to, and considerable expertise in, analysis of government policy, perhaps they could commission an online system for this purpose. Such a system could be initially used by the Commission and then made available for other agencies and state governments. The system could function in a similar way to AusTender, the Australian Government’s online tender system. It could use similar free open source software to GovDex, the Government's online collaboration tool. Agencies could upload draft policies for consultation. The system would automatically alert those who had registered interest in the topic. People could download the draft and upload comments. The system would collate the results automatically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics National Data Network could be used to support analytical analysis of policies across agencies.

Providing an online system for policy analysis could considerably cut government costs. I get the impression that much of the resources in policy agencies are not devoted to analysis of policy, but to arranging meetings to discuss the policy. Eliminating most of these meetings would greatly reduce costs. This would also reduce accidental or deliberate bias in the process, where only a small select group is consulted due to time or cost pressures (or because no criticism of the policy is welcome). In the case of something like the response to the Global Financial Crisis, a consultation and analysis could be carried out in a few days.
The concept of ‘evidence-based policy-making’, while not new, has recently become elevated in public discussion. Like motherhood, it has universal appeal, at least in principle. The need for it is manifest in the complexity of the policy challenges confronting Australia, both in the short term (the ‘meltdown’) and the long term (greenhouse, population ageing). But what exactly does evidence-based policy-making entail? How can it contribute to achieving better policy outcomes? What is needed to put it into wider practice? Gary Banks will address each of these questions, drawing some insights and lessons from the experience of the Productivity Commission and its predecessors over the years.

Gary Banks has been Chairman of the Productivity Commission since its inception and was reappointed in April 2008. In addition to overseeing the Commission’s activities, he has personally headed national inquiries on such topics as National Competition Policy, the National Reform Agenda and the Economic Implications of an Ageing Australia. He also chaired the Australian Government’s Regulation Taskforce in 2006 and is presiding on the Productivity Commission’s gambling inquiry. Gary Banks chairs the inter-governmental Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services and was the initial convenor for its report on Indigenous Disadvantage. In 1998 he was a member of the West Review of Higher Education. In 2007 he was made an officer of the Order of Australia for services to the development of public policy in microeconomic reform and regulation.

Presented by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). This lecture is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

Speaker/Host: Gary Banks, AO, Chairman, Productivity Commission, Canberra
Venue: The Shine Dome, Gordon Street, Acton
Date: Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Time: 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

From: "Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?", The Australian National University.

1 comment:

Tom Worthington said...

Join the discussion in the "National Forum".