Just over a week ago, America Forward hosted a Twitter chat. Under the hashtag #EvidenceinAction, over 50 individuals and organizations held a virtual conversation about the programs that best help communities tackle our most seemingly intractable problems and how federal policies can help to test and scale up these interventions to measurably improve people’s lives.
In the weeks before the Twitter chat, America Forward, through our blog, began to elevate examples of where data and evidence are being used in the delivery of human and social services, highlighted programs for which outcomes are collected and where impact has been evaluated, and provided illustrations of policies that emulate the notion of evidence-based policy-making. Coalition members and network partners submitted pieces that touched on early childhood education, teacher training and preparation, workforce development, higher education, national service, substance abuse, hunger and poverty, and much more. Policies such as Pay for Success, innovation funds, AmeriCorps, the School Leadership Program, apprenticeships, and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are just some of the policies highlighted as being grounded in evidence and having a real impact in communities and for individuals across the country.
Shortly before the Twitter conversation, the Trump Administration released their Fiscal Year 2018 budget. This budget, like others from Presidents before, serves primarily as a messaging document for an Administration. It does, however, showcase for policymakers and the American people how the Administration views the role of the federal government and the resources needed to achieve the goals of federal agencies.
Included in the budget documents was a section entitled “Building and Using Evidence to Improve Government Effectiveness.” In the four pages of this section, important statements were made about the Administration’s position on evidence and how it should be applied to federal policy and budget decision-making. Specifically, in the opening paragraph, the following language is included:
Strong evidence about policies and programs should be acted upon, suggestive evidence should be considered, and where evidence is weak it should be built to enable better decisions in the future. Agencies should integrate quality evidence and rigorous evaluation into budget, management, and policy decisions through a broad set of activities. Doing so requires the infrastructure and capacity to credibly build and use evidence and develop a culture of learning and continuous improvement.
Further, in the document, there is a list of ideas for how agencies can build the capacity to generate and use evidence. Many of these ideas, which include human capital, evaluation support, administrative data access, and evidence-based grantmaking, parallel actions and measures argued by America Forward to be critical for policymakers to consider as they move towards a policymaking environment that incentivizes innovation, focuses on outcomes, and rewards results.
The section goes on to note that evidence does not equal one report or evaluation. That in fact, “…the strongest evidence generally comes from a portfolio of high-quality evidence rather than a single study or data point…[and] whenever possible, critical decisions should be made based on a body of evidence.” The community that came together for America Forward’s #EvidenceinAction Twitter chat, and that contributed posts elevating programs and policies that are using evidence and data to drive implementation and impact, could not agree more with these assertions. That is why, as federal policymakers are making critical funding decisions right now, they should take a look at the examples elevated by this community. If they do so, they will be hard pressed to make the cuts outlined in the Administration’s budget because doing so would run counter to the arguments made about how evidence can be used to improve government effectiveness.
Below are just some of the highlights from America Forward’s #EvidenceinAction Twitter chat. You can find the entire conversation here.
We have only just begun to elevate the policies and programs that are using evidence and data to drive change for communities and for individuals across the country. We believe if policymakers are serious about being more evidence-based in how they make funding decisions, they need to be aware of the evidence available regarding federally-supported interventions, they must be informed about federal programs that use evidence as a key component of their work, and they need to support measures will help develop the evidence so that we know what works to make the ultimate decision of what to fund and at what level.
If you are interested in joining us in this #EvidenceinAction discussion, please reach out to us at America_forward@newprofit.org.
America Forward #EvidenceinAction Twitter Chat Highlights
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