My assigned topic is the need for good research by NGOs to provide
legislators and other policymakers with responsible options. Poor
public policy often results from inadequate, bad or sometimes even no
substantive research (A good example of the latter is the National
Energy Programme of 1980; a more recent one is the Public Servants
Disclosure Protection Act of 2005, which has aptly been termed the
“whistleblower persecution act’).
In the necessary but often neglected field of family and marriage,
research is often contested and political, so the role of IMFC and is
all the more important today.
One of the first things persons involved in policy-making learn is
that there is “research” to support virtually any point of view.
Sometimes it seems that the more counter-intuitive the viewpoint the
more vehement its advocates are about the accuracy of their “data”.
Standards for Good Research
In preparing for this event, I learned that an Ottawa-based
organization, the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, has
been doing high-quality work for over two decades and is a recipient
of the Outstanding Research Contribution Award (2000).
Let me therefore offer some selected parts of its code of practice.
The ten principles are carried on its website
I’ll quote or paraphrase only some of them:
Respect for human dignity. ..(is the) cardinal principle of modern
research ethics... This principle aspires to protecting the multiple
and interdependent interests of the person — from bodily to
psychological to cultural integrity…
Respect for truth… requires that data be accurately gathered,
recorded, and preserved and the results of research be reported fairly
and honestly. Information will not be knowingly misinterpreted or used
in inappropriate ways.
Respect for … consent...translates into a requirement for free and
informed consent on the part of all participants in research,
including the right to withdraw from research without penalty.
Respect for vulnerable persons…whose diminished competence or
decision-making capacity make them vulnerable. Children,
institutionalized persons or others who are vulnerable are entitled…
to special protection against abuse, exploitation, or discrimination…I
add here parenthetically that children from broken families are
sometimes among the most vulnerable Canadians.
Respect for privacy and confidentiality… must be applied to protect
the access, control and dissemination of personal information… such
standards help to protect the mental or psychological integrity of
Respect for justice and inclusiveness...means that no segment of the
population should be unfairly burdened with the harms of research.
(This)… imposes particular obligations toward individuals who are
vulnerable and unable to protect their own interests in order to
ensure that they are not exploited...
Balancing harms and benefits… Research participants must not be
subjected to unnecessary risks of harm, and their participation in
research must be essential to achieving scientifically and societally
important aims that cannot be realized without the involvement of
Respect for interests of the wider society…No research should be
undertaken that is predisposed toward a particular outcome…Funders and
operational partners should be notified of the protocols, standards
and guidelines under which the research will be undertaken.
Respect for the broad dissemination of research findings. (They
should be)… shared with the general public, with funders, with
research participants, and with colleagues. Findings should be made
available in the context of independently published and easily
Finally, Respect for high standards of evidence. The analysis of all
research data is guided by a commitment to raise the standards of
evidence that are used in assessing social policies and programs. This
commitment implies the use of the best available technology,
methodology, or practice appropriate to each research project.
Long census vs. voluntary survey
Good research requires good data. I was disappointed with the 2010
Canadian decision to replace the mandatory long census with a
voluntary survey in 2011. Statisticians, economists, former
government officials, charities, doctors and educators stepped forward
to explain how much the private and public sectors depend on
demographic details collected by the mandatory long form.
The provinces warned the decision would undermine the accuracy of
budget decisions and erode the ability to direct social programs to
the most vulnerable. Provincial representatives worry that the next
census will produce inaccurate results in part because needier
Canadians won’t fill out the voluntary long form. That would mean they
would no longer show up in statistics.
At the very least, the two methodologies make the 2011 data
non-comparable with the last census. As you know, it is the ability to
accurately measure change of data over time which has made our
Canadian census statistics the envy worldwide. At this time when
governments are very correctly increasing the emphasis on
results-based program decision-making, the lost of this valuable tool
to measure results is likely to have long range negative effects on
Canada’s public policy.
Permit me in closing, ladies and gentlemen, to stress that accurate
research by NGOs like the IMFC is terribly important to good policy in
a crucial social policy field.