PolicyWise for Children & Families exists to improve well-being by leading, creating, enabling and mobilizing research and evaluation for evidence-informed policy and practice.
PolicyWise was established as a not-for-profit corporation in 2003 and is a partnership between Alberta’s universities, the community and the Government of Alberta. We are a provincial organization, governed by a Board of Directors, managed by a President and CEO and supported by a team of individuals with expertise in applied research, data science, knowledge mobilization, communications and administration.
PolicyWise distinguishes itself through its focus on mobilizing evidence to inform social policy, collaborative approach and organizational structure: a formal bridge between government, academia, and the community. With the development of the Child and Youth Data Laboratory (CYDL), in 2007, we play a unique role in the analysis and interpretation of linked administrative data collected across all child and youth serving ministries.
Alberta is a leader in creating and mobilizing evidence to ensure the well-being of children.
To develop and integrate evidence to inform, identify and promote effective public policy and service delivery to improve the well-being of children, families and communities.
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There are many dimensions and sectors that influence child well-being spanning across family, community and government. This landscape helps to shape the nature and type of partnerships that PolicyWise relies on to accomplish our work. Our stakeholders and partners span the community, academic and government sectors.
PolicyWise’ primary relationship is with the Human Services Ministry of the Alberta Government and we are in a five-year agreement to support research, analysis and knowledge mobilization related to the following strategic issues:
PolicyWise collaborates with all child-serving Ministries and government-funded agencies such as Alberta Heath Services.
The community is one of PolicyWise’ founding members and we are viewed by numerous community agencies as a bridge builder and mobilizer of knowledge. We work closely with ALIGN and their numerous affiliated organizations. Our stakeholder list is comprised of agencies, organizations and associations that focus on children, youth and families.
Our more formal partnerships are developed and maintained to help with our major strategic initiatives. Examples of these partnerships are the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI), Palix Foundation, Muttart Foundation, Alberta’s Promise, Institute of Health Economics (IHE), Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (OCYA), Alberta Mentoring Partnership and Alberta Innovates: Health Solutions.
We link with organizations and institutes across Canada, including the Child Welfare League of Canada, the Centre for Research on Children and Families (McGill University), and Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
We also connect with many international organizations through our research and data linkage initiatives. A list of our many partners and stakeholders is included in our Annual Report.
The Child and Youth Data Laboratory (CYDL)
The CYDL links anonymized government administrative data across Ministries to better understand the life trajectories of children and youth and the impact of policy decisions.
The collaboration of partnering Government of Alberta (GOA) Ministries is facilitated and managed by PolicyWise with the intent to provide government programs, service providers and researchers with improved capacity to access and use internal information for research, analysis and decision making.
PolicyWise’ early recognition of the importance of accessing quality information through the analysis of existing government data resources and the need to ensure the participation of multiple ministries is an important contributor to the development of evidence-based policy capacity within the GOA.
The process of designing the CYDL itself represents a number of strategic and operational innovations. These include creating effective collaborative governance mechanisms to support the needs of multiple Ministries; the adoption of a ‘network governance’ approach (rather than seeking to control and manage multi-Ministry data resources through one organization); the unique positioning of PolicyWise as being a neutral organization – linked to, but operating outside of government; creating the technical capacity to integrate unique data from multiple sources while ensuring data security, protection and privacy as well as identifying the particular human resource competencies and organization structure to support the work of the lab. CYDL’s approach is also based on a knowledge transfer/mobilization strategy, as Ministries’ collaboration throughout evidence creation stages is a critical success factor to its ultimate utilization.
While PolicyWise is primarily funded by Alberta Human Services, the evidence generation and knowledge mobilization effort often involves working with all of Alberta’s child-serving ministries through grants and contracts. PolicyWise staff are familiar with the broad spectrum of Alberta government priorities and information needs as they relate to the well-being of children, families and communities. It is common practice to include cross-ministerial representation on most research and evaluation project advisory committees.
PolicyWise endeavors to support the development of evidence that is relevant to government’s current and emerging information needs. In order to be policy relevant, evidence needs to be produced in a timely manner. PolicyWise responds by working quickly and closely with government staff to clearly define the pertinent questions that require evidence-based answers. Decisions are then made on the best means or methods to generate knowledge to adequately address the questions.
PolicyWise also concentrates on developing continuums of evidence that build on its thematic research priorities. Gap analyses are routinely conducted on existing collections of research evidence to identify key areas or questions that require further investigation. The results of program evaluations for example, are used to develop research questions to generate increased knowledge based on initial findings.
There are major challenges in being able to provide evidence of value to policy development since it requires capacity in both policy and academic worlds to deeply understand each others’ context and situations. PolicyWise integrates a capacity building approach into knowledge generation.
PolicyWise developed an early commitment to supporting knowledge translation and mobilization and is recognized as a leader in the area. At PolicyWise, knowledge mobilization is not an afterthought. It’s part of the process at the point of inception. End users are the backbone of every project. Because of this factor alone, there are no surprises and uptake of knowledge and learnings is immediate.
PolicyWise plays an important role in making evidence available to policy and program decision makers in a timely way. Sometimes this role is visible in supporting the conduct of specific research to inform a particular policy need and sometimes the role takes a less visible form, by helping to broker relationships behind the scenes.
PolicyWise’ capability to inform and support policy begins with a collaborative process to identify key issues and develop useful researchable questions. Supporting policy is dependent on having relationships and networks among Ministers and senior civil servants as well as knowledge of how the policy process actually works.
To disseminate evidence broadly, PolicyWise embraces gatherings, seminars, workshops and symposiums. PolicyWise began broadcasting its events via videoconferencing in 2005. With the advent of webcasting, its ease of use and cost-effectiveness, stakeholders could access evidence from their home or work computers by 2006. Today, with little or no marketing budget, PolicyWise events have been viewed by over 50,000 people across Alberta, Canada and around the world. In addition, using social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo) PolicyWise has promoted project results. Both and funders and stakeholders have appreciated our storytelling methods, in particular the production of vignettes to convey complex project summaries.
PolicyWise’ popular web presence receives over 15,000 unique visits per week from around the world and features more than 1,800 reports of high quality information and knowledge resources as well as recordings of hundreds of presentations and links to other entities.