Building upon foundations for evidence-based policy
By Robert Hahn
Science10 May 2019 : 534-535 Restricted Access
Can government culture evolve under a promising new law?
There is no natural constituency for evidence-based policy. It should, by rights, be the public who wants the most from their government (and their public funds). But the public, like most politicians, is often not aware of the ins and outs of evaluation methods and evidence. Think tanks and academics have long filled this gap and will likely continue to play key roles. But legislation signed into law in early 2019 could transform the way U.S. government officials design programs by introducing more scientific evidence into the process. On the basis of recommendations of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (1), this Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (2) (“Evidence Act”) could help usher in a cultural shift toward evidence-based policy, and in so doing shed new light on many policy challenges, including welfare, crime prevention, drug abuse, and inequality [e.g., (3)]. This act received broad support from Congress (4), suggesting that many legislators are beginning to see the value of making sure the programs that they fund deliver on their promise, and of making the policy-making process more transparent. But the act is just a foundation, not the full building. Getting from this act to more effective policy outcomes means getting departments and agencies to buy into a new culture where rigorous evaluation matters more in designing and funding programs.