Press Release

Five States Lead the Way in Pursuing Evidence-Based Policymaking

New 50-state study assesses how states use research to identify and fund programs that work


Washington—Five states lead the way in using evidence-based policymaking—employing research that can help inform their budget and policy decisions—according to a new report from the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. The report, How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking: A National Assessment, categorizes each state by its level of engagement in six key actions across four policy areas: behavioral health, child welfare, criminal justice, and juvenile justice.

While the term “evidence-based policymaking” is growing in popularity in state capitols, limited information exists about the extent to which states create the tools and processes that help them incorporate findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses—the “evidence” in evidence-based policymaking—into their policy and funding decisions. The report finds:

  • The five leading states—Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—have developed tools and initiatives that facilitate the use of research in policy and funding decisions. 
  • Another 11 states demonstrate established levels of evidence-based policymaking by pursuing more actions than most states—but either not as frequently or not in as advanced a manner as the five leading states.
  • The District of Columbia and 27 states demonstrate modest levels of evidence-based policymaking, engaging in the actions less frequently and in less advanced ways.
  • Seven states show trailing levels of evidence-based policymaking, taking very few such actions.

“Evidence-based policymaking can help guide government policy and funding decisions,” said Sara Dube, director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “By focusing limited resources on services and programs that have been shown to produce positive results, governments can expand investment in cost-effective programs, consider reducing funding for ineffective programs, and improve the outcomes of services funded by taxpayer dollars.”

This first-of-its-kind report examined whether and how states: (1) define levels of evidence; (2) inventory existing programs; (3) compare program costs and benefits; (4) report outcomes in the budget; (5) target funds to evidence-based programs; and (6) require action through state law. These actions demonstrate states’ engagement in identifying and investing in programs that work. States received points based on whether researchers found an advanced example (two points), a minimum example (one point), or no example (zero points) of each action, and were categorized based on the total points earned across policy areas.

The report also identifies how states can build a culture of evidence-based policymaking by facilitating dialogue with government officials, community leaders, and service providers; building data infrastructure; and enhancing capacity to fund and implement evidence-based programs.

“While many states have begun to embrace evidence-based policymaking, leaders often face challenges in building a culture in which the approach is engrained,” said Valerie Chang, managing director of programs at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “This report is a helpful tool in fostering a workplace culture that values, relies upon, and consistently uses evidence to better serve constituencies and communities.”


The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative works with states to implement an innovative cost-benefit analysis approach that helps them invest in policies and programs that are proved to work:

The Pew Charitable Trusts

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life:

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including overincarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy; the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago; and generating new knowledge about critical issues:

Evidence-Based Policymaking Made Easy by 'Results First' Tool

Results First

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Catherine An

Officer, Communications