Evidence-Based Policy Analysis Project

November 19, 2020


This report addresses the problem that policymaking in Australia is falling short of best practice. Policies are often built ‘on the run’ as quick reactions to the political issue of the day, designed to capture the interest of the 24-hour news cycle or motivated by short-term political advantage. This can result in failed policy implementation and poor results for citizens, politicians, and society at large, especially when it undermines public confidence in policymaking.

The Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) 2012 discussion paper Public Policy Drift argued that governments must replace “policy on the run” with a “business case approach” to address the “sense of crisis in the policymaking system”. This approach would involve designing policies based on evidence, consultation, analysis, and debate. The paper outlined a business case approach based on Professor Kenneth Wiltshire’s Ten Criteria for a Public Policy Business Case and analysed 18 federal policies against that criteria, finding that only eight satisfied these standards for policymaking.

In 2018, the newDemocracy Foundation commissioned two think tanks with different ideological leanings – Per Capita and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) – to repeat the analysis, ranking 20 recent high-profile policies (eight federal, and four from each of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland) against the Wiltshire criteria. In 18 of the 20 cases, the two think tanks were able to find at least 80% agreement in scoring, revealing the importance of taking a rigorous and consultative approach to policy development and implementation at all levels of government. The project demonstrated that, while no policy analysis can be completely free of ideological perspective, there are several elements that should be common to all well-conceived and implemented policies if they are to efficiently and effectively serve the public interest.

In 2019 the project was re-commissioned, with updates to the methodology to address some of the previous year’s inconsistencies. We prioritised policy decisions that had been legislated and introduced a questionnaire to accompany the Wiltshire criteria. Once again, the project demonstrated that two ideologically opposed think tanks could come to agreement on processes that represented good – and bad – policymaking. It also included some reflections on election policymaking, on the state/federal comparison, and on consensus versus controversy.

This report is the project’s third annual instalment. In 2020, in light of the extraordinary policy-making times we find ourselves in, the project’s Steering Committee consulted with Professor Kenneth Wiltshire to revisit the methodology. These modifications are outlined in the Methodology section.