Research and evidence in education decision-making: A comparison of results from two pan-Canadian studies


  • Gerald Galway Memorial University
  • Bruce Sheppard Memorial University



education, school boards, ministries of education, government, research, evidence, decision-making, policy, risk theory


In this paper we compare the use of research and other evidence in the policy formation practices of two groups of education policy elites, situated in different contexts – provincial education ministries and school districts. Data are derived from two pan-Canadian studies: Galway (2006) and Sheppard, Galway, Brown & Wiens (2013). The findings show that policy decisions at the ministry level are informed primarily by political and pragmatic factors, personal and professional beliefs and staff advice. The role of external research is shown to be relatively marginal and confined to quantitative studies and performance assessments. Decision makers at the school district level are less attendant to political and pragmatic influences relying more on personal beliefs, values and experiential factors supplemented by the advice of professional staff and in-house research/indicators.  Results from both studies demonstrate limited reliance on external data and university-based research – the latter ranking 15th of 20 influencing factors. Consistent with Beck’s (1994; 1997) risk theory, we theorize that education policy making in both contexts is influenced by both macro- and micro-level factors, where choice of policy evidence is mediated by personal considerations and political risk factors. This suggests a weak policy development paradigm that is, to a large extent, resistant to independent research-informed evidence.


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Author Biographies

Gerald Galway, Memorial University

Dr. Galway is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University and a former education executive in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.  For much of his career, he worked as a senior policy advisor providing research support and advice to decision-makers, cabinet ministers and other political elites.   He is a former Associate Dean of Education and holds a number of distinctions including two first-place research awards from AERA. Dr. Galway holds a PhD in educational policy and leadership from the University of South Australia. He is the co-author of two edited books and has written numerous articles and reports. His research interests include evidence-based policy/decision making, knowledge mobilization, planning and demography, public sector accountability and educational reform. His most recent (2013) co-edited book, Inspiration and Innovation in Teacher Education, is published by Lexington.

Bruce Sheppard, Memorial University

Dr. Sheppard is a professor in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University.  Prior to his current position, he had a lengthy career in the public school system and has served as Director of Education in two school boards, and Associate Dean of Graduate Programmes and Research in Education at Memorial.  Dr. Sheppard has been a recipient of a number of distinguished awards throughout his career including the CEA-Whitworth Award for contribution to research and scholarship in Canada and the European Distance Education Network Best Research Paper Award.  His research interests include educational leadership, educational change and computer technology integration into classroom learning.   He is author or co-author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, including a 2009 book entitled School District Leadership Matters.





How to Cite

Galway, G., & Sheppard, B. (2015). Research and evidence in education decision-making: A comparison of results from two pan-Canadian studies. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23, 109.