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Rethinking Evidence – the Global Evidence Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges

By: Tushar Sood, Vikita Mehta 

Edited by: Dr. Michael Wilson

Among many transformations, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep societal inequities and prompted us to rethink how we approach policies to address societal challenges. This has created a “once-in-a-generation focus on evidence among governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations, many types of professionals, and citizens” (mcmasterhealthforum, 2022). Given this emphasis, it is time to formally systematize what is going well when using evidence and addressing any shortfalls. This includes “creating the capacities, opportunities and motivation to use evidence to address societal challenges, and putting in place the structures and processes to sustain them” (Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, 2022). This approach can be expanded to many societal challenges, from educational achievement to climate change to health-system performance. The Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, hereafter referred to as the Evidence Commission, was formed to address this challenge.

The Evidence Commission 

On 27 January 2022, the Evidence Commission was launched through a webinar hosted by the Secretariat Co-Leads John Lavis and Jeremy Grimshaw and Executive Lead Jenn Thornhill Verma and Secretariat. It featured a brief overview of the report by John Lavis by commissioners David Halpern (Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team), Kerry Albright (Deputy Director ad interim and Chief, Research Facilitation and Knowledge Management, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti), and Modupe Adefeso-Olateju (Managing Director of The Education Partnership Centre). The report has two main goals: 1) provide the context, concepts or vocabulary that underpin work in this area; and 2) provide recommendations about how we can and must improve the use of evidence, both in routine times and during future global crises. 

In this report, which considers equity throughout its text, evidence refers to research evidence which is collected by researchers and may be used by decision-makers (Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, 2022). Specifically, the Evidence Commission outlines eight types of evidence. These include data analytics, modelling, evaluation, behavioural/implementation research, qualitative insights, evidence synthesis, technology assessment/cost-effectiveness analysis and guidelines (Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, 2022). In addition, the Evidence Commission focuses on four types of decision-makers, which include government policymakers, professionals, organizational leaders, and citizens, aiming to help them prepare for challenges, prepare for decision-making, and to consider evidence (Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, 2022). 

The Evidence Commission’s report includes the following chapters, further divided into 52 sections available for download on the website: https://www.mcmasterforum.org/networks/evidence-commission.  

  1. Introduction 
  2. Nature of societal challenges 
  3. Decision and decision-makers: Demand for evidence 
  4. Studies, syntheses and guidelines: Supply of evidence 
  5. Role of evidence intermediaries 
  6. Need for global public goods and equitably distributed capacities 
  7. Recommendations 
  8. Appendices 

The eight most important recommendations of the report are highlighted in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Main recommendations of the Evidence Commission report (Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges, 2022).

Further, the report contains 52 sections that are available for download on the website.  

The Evidence Commission has garnered international attention. For example, an editorial in Nature discusses a priority recommendation from the Commission for multilateral organizations to provide greater support for the use of research evidence in making decisions, such as the way the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change evaluates climate science to inform policy related to the climate (Nature Editors, 2022). It also calls to attention the need for a central agency to coordinate the independent efforts by each nation, to ultimately “get the right evidence to those who need it at the right time” (Nature Editors, 2022). 

Next Steps 

Next steps for the Commission include systematizing what went well and address what didn’t during and before the pandemic. At the country-level, the report highlights the need for countries to conduct rapid jurisdictional assessments and contribute to a cross-jurisdictional network of government entities engaged in similar systematizing work. Other potential next steps for evidence producers include starting conversations about issues such as duplication and ensuring quality evidence, as well as exposing them to new approaches to gathering evidence including living syntheses and guidelines. Experimenting with new evidence products such as infographics that collect many forms of evidence and engage citizens and stakeholders was also proposed. One example that has been highlighted for consideration locally is adapting the UK cabinet office approach where political leaders can bring unanswered policy-related questions to the cabinet, and the evidence funding can subsequently be given to these priority areas. At the global level, one way forward could be efforts to spearhead a G20 brief and advocacy effort focused on securing a soft commitment by all members and hard commitment by select members on important evidence-building priorities.  

On an individual level, we can all contribute to this global effort for evidence-informed policymaking by learning more about the Global Commission on Evidence through social media (@evidencecomm on Twitter and LinkedIn) and sharing posts with our networks. To share the Commission’s work more broadly, you can also write a story or op-ed about the Global Commission on Evidence for your national news media or publish a commentary in an academic journal.  

We have all learned a great deal from the COVID-19 pandemic. For us to never again reach a level of global crisis that was the pandemic, it is integral that more robust and interlinked evidence systems be built and used by all nations. The Global Evidence Commission’s recommendations are the first step in achieving this goal.  

References 

Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges. (2022, January 27). The Evidence Commission report: A wake-up call and path forward for decisionmakers, evidence intermediaries, and impact-oriented evidence producers—Executive Summary. https://www.mcmasterforum.org/docs/default-source/evidence-commission/executive-summary—evidence-commission-report.pdf?Status=Master&sfvrsn=d5f745e8_5/Executive-summary—Evidence-Commission-report 

mcmasterhealthforum. (2022, January 27). Evidence Commission report launch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiZRoU5L4uY 

Nature Editors. (2022). Wanted: Better systems for turning evidence into action. Nature, 603(7899), 7–8. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00559-9 

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