Public Health Institutions


Numerous international, national, and sub-national institutions play a critical role in public health. However, relatively little research has been conducted on these public health institutions, and few existing studies draw on the rich body of research in political science, public administration, and international relations. Similarly, the existing literature on public health policy does not typically integrate the insights of political science and, in particular, the rapidly growing body of research on the complex role of science and scientific evidence in policymaking. We are bridging disciplinary divides to better understand today's public health institutions and advise governments around the world on how to design those capable of addressing tomorrow's challenges.

Institutions Westminster

What we have done at GSL

GSL has contributed to filling these gaps through several projects that address institutional design challenges and evidence-informed policymaking processes for public health. Following changes to the structure of the Chief Public Health Officer position in Canada, GSL launched a multi-year, comparative study to assess the implications of different institutional design choices for this role. In addition, several GSL studies have examined strategies for effective knowledge translation and evidence utilization that take into consideration the complexity of national and international public health decision-making processes.  

What we are currently doing

GSL continues to investigate the relationships among public health policymaking, institutional design, and the use of scientific evidence. We are using legislative analyses and in-depth key informant interviews to further our understanding of the Chief Public Health Officer role across Canada and we plan to expand the study to include other countries that have similar senior public health leadership positions. We are also coordinating an international dialogue that aims to identify strategies for developing public health policy and program responses that are both democratically legitimate and informed by the best-available scientific evidence. To this end, GSL recently hosted an international workshop on the topic of Integrating Science and Politics for Public HealthA short account of the workshop and what is planned by way of followup can be found here.


  1. Fafard, P. & Hoffman, S.J. (2018) Rethinking Knowledge Translation for Public Health Policy. Evidence and Policy. 1-11.
  2. Fafard, P. & Forest, P.-G. (2016) The loss of that which never was: Evaluating changes to the senior management of the Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Public Administration. 59 (3): 448-466.
  3. Fafard, P., et al. (2018) Contested roles of Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health. Canadian Journal of Public Health. 109: 585-589.
  4. Hoffman, S.J., et al. (2018) Towards a Systematic Understanding of How to Institutionally Design Scientific Advisory Committees: A Conceptual Framework and Introduction to a Special Journal Issue. Global Challenges.