The following post was written by Nicole Truhe, Director of Government Affairs at America Forward.
The federal government allocates upwards of $1.6 trillion for social services annually, but only about one percent of that funding is allocated in a way that its impact on those being served is known. Fortunately, Congress recently passed a piece of legislation that had strong bipartisan agreement and that shows real promise in addressing this problem. And they did so with little to no fanfare. The legislation, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, establishes in the executive branch a commission named the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking to study how to best expand the use of data to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs and tax expenditures. The effort by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to drive real change in Washington through their focus on results through innovation, evaluation, and common frameworks for evidence is manifested in this legislation that they developed and championed together. This legislation, signed into law by President Obama on March 30th, has real significance for the way we tackle social challenges now and in the future.
At America Forward, we champion innovative, effective, and efficient solutions that are helping to tackle our country’s most pressing social problems. We do this through a network of more than 70 social innovation organizations who are driving progress in areas such as education, workforce development, early learning, public health, pay for success, and national service in more than 14,500 communities nationwide, touching the lives of 8 million Americans each year. Our work is grounded in the real world, community-based experiences of these organizations and those they serve. This grounding, we think, serves us extremely well in not only identifying and championing policy solutions that will have real meaningful impact but our ability to point to tangible examples of these solutions in action, and to real people who these solutions have touched, sets us apart from other advocacy organizations.
Our advocacy work is based on a belief that in times of greater demand for human and social services and tighter budgets, we must work together to direct government resources to programs that work and that measurably improve people’s lives. We were supportive of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act when it was introduced by Speaker Ryan and Senator Murray and supported efforts to ensure its passage given its alignment with this belief. The promise of the Commission is to develop practices and processes for ensuring the use of evidence and outcomes in the creation of federal policies and in the funding of interventions. Great pieces by the Social Innovation Research Center and the Urban Institute further articulate the how and what of the Commission.
The real promise for the Commission for us at America Forward, however, is that the focus on bringing evidence and greater attention to outcomes will not only be in service to the creation of better policies and budgeting practices but that it will also serve to inform service practice and delivery. Better policies and more effective allocation of resources only fixes a part of the equation of having a more evidence-based human and social services system. The way those services are delivered is equally important to ensuring that we are measurably improving the lives of those who need to access these critical services at one point or another in their lives. Like our approach to policy advocacy—it is not just about a good policy, it is about how that policy works on-the-ground and how it impacts those the policy is meant to help or support.
As with many Congressionally created commissions, there is the risk that this Commission will fail to include this practical lens to its work, and more specifically, will fail to include practitioners in its membership. State and local level government leaders and service providers, who are collecting data, using data, and ultimately serving the individuals who are behind the data points we need to build the evidence base, are where the real promise of the Commission lies. It would be a missed opportunity if this Commission did not both include individuals outside of the traditional academic and research communities—outside of the DC Beltway—as well as focus on how to make data available to inform real world service program design and delivery.
It is in fact the complementary combination of classic academics, applied researchers, and program facilitators and service providers that will ensure that the work of this Commission is as robust and significant as its promise holds. We think it is imperative that Administration and Congressional leadership charged with naming Commission members ensure that all of these perspectives, from all levels—federal, state and local—as well as across issue areas, are included and that a well-rounded group of experts is ultimately chosen in the establishment of this Commission.
If a range of perspectives is not included in the Commission, there will almost certainly be both gaps of expertise in some areas as well as overlaps of expertise in others that could distort perspective and conclusions. The promise of the Commission is too important for these distortions to occur. The America Forward Coalition and our broader network are full of individuals and organizations that are leaders in their fields and could be integral members on the Committee. And we are more than happy to support efforts to ensure that the real promise of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking is realized.
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