Analyzing Public Policies

The NCCHPP promotes the use of scientific research and other knowledge to inform decision making. Knowledge syntheses are central in this endeavour, since the data they provide are more reliable than the data from a single study. Public health actors are therefore called upon to produce such syntheses in order to inform decision makers during the promotion, adoption and implementation of public policies.

Image of blackboard with arrows © Marek Uliasz   

But what constitutes “evidence” when looking at healthy public policies? Where can it be found? How can we address the specific challenges related to synthesizing this knowledge?

Systematic reviews of effectiveness, designed to synthesize knowledge on biomedical interventions, are inappropriate to the study of public policies. 

Decision makers want to know the effectiveness of public policies, but they are also very interested in issues related to their implementation, and the methods used to carry out traditional systematic reviews do not allow us to document such issues.

Knowledge synthesis method
Drawing inspiration from political science, policy analysis, literature on evidence-informed decision making in public health, literature on evaluation, and theoretical developments related to deliberative processes, the NCCHPP has developed a knowledge synthesis method that is applicable to public policies:

Dimensions analyzed – The effectiveness of the public policy that is being studied, but also its unintended effects, its effects on equity, and implementation issues of concern to decision makers: financial costs, technical feasibility, and the policy's acceptability to stakeholders.

Sources – The scientific literature, the grey literature, and the relevant stakeholders in the context in which the knowledge synthesis is performed.

Means – An inventory of the public policies proposed to address the targeted health problem, the construction of the logic model of the policy being studied, a literature review (in a way that is methodical but appropriate to the study of public policies), and deliberative processes bringing together stakeholders. Click here to learn more about deliberative processes.

In our publications section you will find the report outlining the theoretical foundations for this method as well as the procedure for how to apply it.

Also just published – An example of how this method can be applied: A synthesis of knowledge on public policies on nutrition labelling.

Two shorter, summary documents have recently been published as well. We will also provide methodological support to public health actors who are interested in applying this method in their work.

Photo Credits:
© Marek Uliasz
For information about how to legally obtain these images,
click here.

We would like to hear from you
Please send us a note to share your comments on our work, or to let us know about potential projects, ideas, interests, or new resources relating to healthy public policy.


The production of the NCCHPP website has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Public Health Agency of Canada.