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Public Opinion Data and Policy: A New ANZSOG Research Project

14 March 2024

News and media


A new project funded through ANZSOG’s Research Model is exploring the use of public opinion data to inform policy development. Its goal is to develop best practice for public sector bodies in the collection, evaluation, and use of data collected through public surveys, for the purpose of developing public policy that integrates, and gives proper weight to, the opinions of those affected by it.

The project has been commissioned by ANZSOG and the Australian Public Sector Commission (APSC), as part of ANZSOG’s field-leading research model, which brings together public sector bodies with university researchers to address cutting edge problems in public administration.

Trust, Transparency and the Use of Data in Informing Policy Responses is being undertaken by researchers from Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute and the first output from the project has been published, as part of ANZSOG’s Research Insights series.

How best to manage the use of data in policymaking is more than merely technical question. The Commonwealth Government’s APS Reform Agenda, being run by the APSC, emphasises the importance both of policy being data driven and government being transparent and accountable in all that it does.[1] This agenda follows the Fault Lines review of the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response, which found that there was “insufficient transparency in how decisions were made” and that “the evidence relied upon [for government interventions] was often unclear.”

The review recommended that models and evidence used in government decision-making should be publicly released.[2] More broadly, that policy is evidence-based and transparent to the public are considered key drivers of public trust and confidence in government, which has fallen across many democracies, including Australia, in recent years.[3] Identifying best practice in the use of public opinion data, then, goes to a broader set of questions about the practice of public administration in the era of big data.

The research for this project will be based on analysis of a dataset collected by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2020 and 2022, the Department conducted two online pulse surveys, tracking public sentiment around various aspects of the pandemic response. The Department has made this data and the survey instruments available to the project’s researchers, along with access to people involved in the design of the surveys and the use of their results. The project’s findings are expected to have particular relevance to decision making under crisis conditions of high time pressure and issue salience.

The project will comprise:

  • The evidence review focusing on guidelines and frameworks for collecting this kind of data and how it was used during the pandemic and other crises, across different jurisdictions and incorporating academic perspectives. This report has now been published – see Report here.
  • A data analysis examining the Department’s pulse surveys’ questions, the quality of the data they collected, and their fitness for policymaking purpose.
  • A practice review based on interviews with designers and users of the pulse survey data.

Importantly, the purpose of this project is not to review specific decisions taken during the pandemic. Instead, it will use the pulse survey data as a kind of case study that teases out and highlights key factors in how public opinion data is used and should be used. Among these factors to consider are the robustness of survey instrument design, reliability of the data, and the transparency of the collection process and about the data collected.

The broader question is the role that this kind of data ought to play in evidence-based policymaking. How can public opinion data be used alongside other kinds of evidence – the findings of science and social science, increasingly available aggregate data (like mobility data), and data gleaned from the evaluation of policy results – to get better results for citizens?

This is an increasingly salient question for government amid the increasing sophistication and availability of public opinion data and rising expectations about the responsiveness of policy (and policymakers) to affected publics – and it is one that ANZSOG, together with its partners across government and the academy, is leading the way in answering.



1. “Our areas of focus,” APS Reform, 2022, https://www.apsreform.gov.au/about-aps-reform/our-focus-areas

2. Peter Shergold, Jillian Broadbent, Isobel Marshall and Peter Varghese, Fault Lines: An independent review into Australia’s response to COVID-19, October 2022, https://assets.website-files.com/62b998c0c9af9f65bba26051/6350438b7df8c77439846e97_FAULT-LINES-1.pdf

3. “Trust in Government,” OECD, 2023, https://www.oecd.org/governance/trust-in-government/