Giving Compass' Take:

• Researchers at MDRC lay out three basic principles necessary for evidence-based policy-making to build a more fiscally responsible federal government that will ensure social programs are working. 

•What are some principles that can help address how to measure the impact of social programs? 

• Read more about the need for evidence-based policies.

Both parties now agree that to ensure a high rate of return on the nation’s social programs, it is necessary to build evidence that they work. To take only the most recent examples of this consensus, Congress established the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking in 2016, and included evidence provisions in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. But more should be done to improve the nation’s research capabilities, to embed evidence building in government programs, and to put evidence at the heart of making policy.

To create a more fiscally responsible federal government, promote the independent evaluation of programs and policies. To make informed decisions about how to spend government resources, policymakers and practitioners need evaluation findings that are credible, relevant, accurate, and timely.

This information can help them decide what programs to improve, what programs to expand, and what programs to cut. Such information is even more urgent in a time of severe budget constraints and fiscal austerity. To make sure that the information is of high quality, federally supported evaluations should adhere to certain principles.
Core principles

  • They should be relevant to policy issues.
  • They must be credible to the evaluations’ subjects and consumers.
  • They should be independent of political and other undue external influences. Evaluations that uphold these principles can provide the information that policymakers and the public require.
  • Just like any business committed to becoming a dynamic learning organization, the federal government should develop incentives for using research evidence to make programs more effective over time.

In the course of administering their programs, government agencies collect enormous amounts of data they could use to track progress and to improve program performance. Yet federal and state agencies (and their contractors) cannot regularly access and share data for evaluation purposes.

Read the full article on evidence-based policymaking by Therese Leung at MDRC.