Bridging the social policy gap

Former MP Andy Scott has returned to his alma mater, UNB, to build a network of social policy research that wil benefit the entire province. Josh O'Kane photo.Andy Scott believes politicians should be making policy decisions based on real evidence – and he should know, having represented the city of Fredericton, N.B. for 15 years as a Member of Parliament.

Scott, who stepped down from his office in 2008, is now the Andrews Senior Fellow in Social Policy at the University of New Brunswick. An alumnus of UNB, he’s using his new post to develop a social policy research network in the province.

“We need evidence and data upon which to build public policy,” Scott explains, “which speaks to social science research.”

As an MP, he learned how much social policy research was being done in the province, regarding everything from French second language to family violence reduction policy.

“It struck me that I was in a unique position to bring to the attention of politicians the incredible resources that are available to public policy development in New Brunswick that aren’t being utilized,” he says. “You can’t leave the research capacity that exists outside of government in New Brunswick on the shelf and be satisfied that you’re doing it as well as you can.”

Connecting the dots

By using evidence gathered in New Brunswick, policymakers can design social policy that reflects the province’s population.

“Many of the questions that need to be answered probably have already been answered,” says Scott, “but the relationship is not close enough that the government knows about it – or that the researchers are connected enough to know where to go.”

Through the network, Scott hopes to establish regular conferences and a journal reflecting social policy research in New Brunswick. While some conferences would be content-specific, he also aims to have a larger annual conference dealing with social policy research as a whole in New Brunswick.

“We would all get together and people would talk for a couple of days – about research that’s being done, research that should be done, and research that is required.”

Such a networking opportunity would allow for researchers to examine what research could benefit future social policy in New Brunswick, and allow governments and not-for-profit organizations to access existing research upon which they can build policy and policy recommendations.

About 100 people have been brought into the network, so far says Scott. He estimates that the network will tap into the minds of 500 researchers in New Brunswick upon completion.

Bringing it all back home

Scott earned his BA in honours sociology from UNB in 1979, and intended to do an MA as well, but was lured away by politics before its completion.

“I’m back, and enjoying it.” He says his new position, which he stepped into in November 2008, “reacquaints me with some of the work I was doing as a student, and also connects me with a large number of students who have interest in social policy, so I can see where their thinking is.”

Eighty per cent of university research in New Brunswick is done at UNB, giving the school an edge as a strong contributor to social policy research. Scott cites UNB’s nationally-recognized Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research as the perfect example of the role that universities and academia can play in public policy.

The university community, Scott explains, offers several avenues to affect positive change through social policy research and discussion.

“You can participate as an informed citizen, as someone who has already done the research the government needs done, or as someone to do the research that hasn’t been done that the government would wish were done.”