Rarely does the topic of generating evidence to support government decision-making reach an audience outside the statistical, evaluation, and policy analysis communities. But today, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking submitted its bipartisan set of recommendations -- supported unanimously by Members of the Commission -- igniting a discussion about how to do better.
In The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking, the Commission lays out a strategy for vastly improving the quantity and quality of evidence available in our country. The strategy seeks to overcome three prevailing challenges identified by the Commission: “unintentional limits on data access, inadequate privacy practices, and insufficient capacity to generate the amount of quality evidence needed to support policy decisions.”
I’ve had the great privilege of working with the Commission Members over the past year as their Policy and Research Director. But my personal involvement in the project should in no way minimize this message: in coming weeks, months, and years, these recommendations will set the tone for how our country goes about developing evidence to inform decisions in government for decades to come.
While the report of the Commission submitted to the President and Congress today addresses a range of issues and is not exclusively focused on the field of evaluation, there is no doubt that the recommendations could tremendously benefit the field if implemented. Take, for example, the Commission’s agreement with the American Evaluation Association that evaluation in government is too often “sporadic, applied inconsistently, and supported inadequately” (p. 26). One solution offered by the Commission is that departments in the Federal government should have Chief Evaluation Officers (see Recommendation 5-1). This alone is a strong statement about the value of and need for evaluation in our society.
But there’s much more. Chapter 2 of the Commission’s report highlights challenges and potential solutions to data access that can improve the evaluation community. Chapter 3 features improvements for privacy protections that go above and beyond approaches applied in much of government today. Chapter 4 offers a new solution to a long-standing issue about securely linked data together, including for evaluation. And Chapter 5 describes the basic capacity gaps in government today, along with strategies to vastly improve government’s coordination and infrastructure.
In my opinion, today marks a major milestone for our country in recognizing that government needs better information to guide policymaking, and that generating this evidence is really possible. I hope the evaluation community in Washington, D.C. will review, consider, discuss, and work to improve government’s capacity to better enable evaluation in support of evidence-based policymaking.
NICK HART, PH.D. is the President of Washington Evaluators in 2017 and served as the Policy and Research Director for the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The views presented here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Government, including the Office of Management Budget and the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.