Evidence-Based Policymaking: How to fund programs that actually work

Tennessee state capitol

What is evidence-based policymaking?

Evidence-based policymaking is a systematic framework for governments to reduce wasteful spending, expand successful programs, strengthen transparency, and increase accountability for results. This may sound miraculous, but at its core is a simple premise.

If rigorous research, best practices, and documented program results are integrated into decisions about what programs to design, fund, and operate, then policymakers will have the information they need to make budget and policy decisions based on “what works” to deliver credible programs to their constituents and maximize the impact of every dollar spent.[i]

The evidence-based policymaking framework is routinely described through five components (refer to Graphic 1).[ii] Taken together, these components create a system that identifies active programs, collects and integrates evidence about those programs into budget decisions, and creates a culture of evidence and learning to better monitor and learn from active programs. The evidence-based policymaking framework can be scaled up or down to apply to an individual program, a specific government agency, or even whole-of-government.

Graphic 1. Evidence-based policymaking framework

What are the benefits of evidence-based policymaking?

How much do policymakers know about how government agencies use their budget? The answer is that many governments lack even a comprehensive list of the programs that government agencies implement. For example, an agency budget may include funding for a Job Creation Initiative; in using those funds, the agency may implement numerous individual programs to meet the goal of job creation (refer to graphic 2). But information about those individual programs—their strategies, their cost, their benefit to constituents—is rarely consistently available.[iii] Without that information, policymakers are limited in their ability to make targeted budget decisions. Budgets often remain static, with incremental changes from year to year, and budget cuts (or increases) are disconnected from evidence of how individual programs benefit constituents.[iv]

Graphic 2. Example agency budget vs. how the agency uses that budget

Evidence-based policymaking works to fill these gaps. By using evidence-based policy making, policymakers have access to a program inventory that contains detailed information on how agencies are using the funds they receive. The program inventory identifies the specific programs that agencies implement and what funds are being used to pay for those programs. Evidence for each program—in the form of a well-researched theory of change that describes how and why a program will produce the desired long-term goals, program performance metrics, or rigorous evaluation—is integrated into budget decisions. The evidence-based policymaking framework provides agencies and policymakers with the tools to make program and budget decisions based on meaningful evidence to strengthen transparency and accountability in using taxpayer money on programming that works.

How DevTech is supporting the evidence in government programming movement

DevTech is currently supporting Ernst and Young on behalf of the Tennessee Office of Evidence and Impact to expand the evidence-based policymaking framework across the Tennessee state government. Our work focuses on the first of the five components identified in Graphic 1: program assessment.[v] We are collaborating with nineteen Tennessee state government agencies over a two-year period to complete the following steps:

  • Produce a program inventory. Compile a comprehensive list of programming implemented by state government agencies to answer the question, what is being funded?
  • Conduct an evidence review. Identify available evidence for the effectiveness of each program. For newer programs testing a novel intervention strategy, evidence may be a well-researched theory of change. More established programs should have performance measures reflecting results, or evidence from a rigorous evaluation of a similar program.

Through hands-on training, templates, and tailored support, the creation of a program inventory and completion of an evidence review lays the foundation for evidence-based policymaking. This is the first step in creating a culture of evidence and learning, which is at the heart of evidence-based policymaking and using evidence to drive more informed program and budget decisions. DevTech is thrilled to be on the cutting edge of this important evidence movement!

[i] The Pew Charitable Trusts and The MacArthur Foundation. Evidence-Based Policymaking A guide for effective government. Nov 2014. https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2014/11/evidencebasedpolicymakingaguideforeffectivegovernment.pdf

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] The Pew Charitable Trusts and The MacArthur Foundation. A Guide to Evidence-Based Budget Development

How to use research to inform program funding decisions. July 2016. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2016/07/a-guide-to-evidence-based-budget-development

[iv] Evidence-Based Policymaking Collaborative. Principles of Evidence-Based Policymaking. September 2016. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99739/principles_of_evidence-based_policymaking.pdf

[v] The Pew Charitable Trusts and The MacArthur Foundation. Program Assessment: Identifying what works in your state or locality. June 2016. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2015/06/program-assessment-identifying-what-works-in-your-state-or-locality

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