Governments are increasingly facing complex, multidimensional challenges requiring them to make policy trade-offs and assess the implications of decisions on many different fronts. Some of the challenges are ‘wicked’ in nature, involving social fragmentation, institutional complexity, and scientific uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the number of “unknown unknowns” that governments face. The need for evidence to navigate these issues as well as for global collaboration in this area is clearer than ever. Moreover, in an age where trust has been severely eroded in some countries, governments must demonstrate the quality and reliability of the evidence on which their policies and decisions are based.

The traditional hierarchical approach to knowledge dissemination in government relies upon recommendations from scientists and academia, as well as from clearinghouses, knowledge brokers and government bodies specialised in gathering and translating evidence. Yet, the standards for such evidence differ among organisations.

This report offers, for the first time, a mapping of existing principles for the good governance of evidence, which are focused on the process through which evidence is obtained, followed by a comprehensive stocktaking of standards of evidence, which apply to the content and quality of the evidence produced.

It provides concrete solutions and approaches that can be used by knowledge brokers and agencies to ensure that their evidence can be safely used by policy makers. It seeks to promote greater coherence among the standards applied, and thus increase confidence in them among users. It also offers a set of tools that can help analysts and practitioners mobilise quality evidence for decision making, thereby promoting sound public governance. In the longer term it can serve as a first step towards developing guidance on strengthening evidence-informed policy making.

This report is based on research and engagement with a wide variety of experts. It is the third in a series of OECD reports in this area, together with Building capacity for evidence-informed policy-making and Improving Governance with Policy Evaluation. The report also complements OECD work on a data-driven public sector, which emphasises the importance of data governance.

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