Over the last decade and a half, during a period defined in the public consciousness by
political partisanship, the legislative and executive branches have quietly forged a bipartisan
consensus around the need to build evidence of effectiveness that would ensure high rates of
return on investment for the nation’s social programs. The establishment by Congress of the
new Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking is only the most recent example of this
The Commission has a great opportunity to offer recommendations to solidify the gains made
in promoting evidence-based policymaking over the last two decades, particularly in
bolstering the evaluation functions of the federal government and in making the use of
rigorous evidence in policymaking more prevalent.
Validate the role of independent evaluation of programs and policies in the federal
government: Evaluation findings that are credible, relevant, accurate, and timely are critical
for policymakers and practitioners to make informed decisions about how to spend the
resources of government. This is an issue of some urgency in a time of severe budget
constraints and fiscal austerity. As is true for the federal statistical agencies, certain principles
should underpin federally supported evaluation: relevance to policy issues, credibility with
subjects and consumers of evaluations, and independence from political and other undue
external influence. By upholding these principles, evaluations are well-positioned to provide
the information that policymakers and the public require.
Create a culture of continuous improvement: Rather than being focused on up-or-down judgments about programs or policies, government must develop incentives for using research evidence to make programs more effective over time — just like a business committed to becoming a dynamic learning organization. A good example is the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, the largest evidence-based program of the era, which provided $1.5 billion in funding for home visiting programs over five years.
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