3 Sep 2013

Science advisers needed in key Govt departments - Sir Peter

9:50 pm on 3 September 2013

The Government's chief science advisor says science advisors need to be appointed to major Government departments to improve the use of evidence and information in forming policies.

Sir Peter Gluckman has released a report recommending how ministries and agencies can improve the way they apply science.

He says the departmental science advisors should have access to their minister, to ensure their evidence is able to influence decisions at the highest level.

Sir Peter says Government agencies' attitudes towards using scientific evidence in making policy is mixed, and at times cavalier, and policies need far more rigorous and objective assessment.

Sir Peter says it's worrying that some officials have a limited understanding of evidence-based information and do not always apply it, which can lead to poor policy decisions.

He also says policy makers can be influenced too much by what they believe or what government ministers might want to hear.

He says there needs to be greater transparency around the use of data when the public is being consulted about complex or controversial policy decisions.

"I think we have some departments and agencies which do bits of it very well and in other places it's quite cavalier attitudes to making sure that the policy options put to ministers are well informed and well argued in relationship to the evidence," he says.

Sir Peter says analysts and policymakers do not always appreciate what the science community can offer.

Sir Peter says funding for proper evaluation is frequently trimmed or diverted and New Zealand could learn from overseas practice where health and education programmes are phased in and evaluated..