Oregon’s Framework of Laws Advances Evidence-Based Policymaking

State is a national leader in directing funding to programs that prove effective

In a new report, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative names Oregon as one of five leading states in evidence-based policymaking. These top states—Washington followed by Utah and Minnesota with Connecticut and Oregon tied at fourth—have consistently pursued key actions to incorporate evidence (findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses) into policy and budget decisions. The report assessed all states based on the presence and sophistication of these actions in four human service policy areas—behavioral health, child welfare, criminal justice, and juvenile justice. Download the full report

Budget shortfalls or changes in leadership priorities can challenge state governments as they attempt to engage in evidence-based policymaking. Laws that promote the process can help institutionalize these practices and save taxpayer dollars over the long term. Oregon sets an example in this area.

In 2003, Oregon passed a law requiring multiple human service agencies to spend at least 75 percent of state funds on cost-effective, evidence-based programs, with funding targets phased in over time. The law also directs the agencies to submit biannual reports that detail which of their programs are evidence-based and what percentage of state, federal, and other money is expended on these programs.

The law required 25 percent of funds to be allocated to evidence-based programs by 2007, 50 percent by 2009, and 75 percent by 2011—the threshold at which it remains today. Agency leaders successfully met the threshold. For example, in 2014, the Oregon Youth Authority reported that it directed 89 percent of all funds to evidence-based programs. The Oregon Health Authority’s Addictions and Mental Health Services reported that it directed a minimum of 75 percent of substance use disorder treatment funds to evidence-based practices. Leaders in criminal justice have also made hefty investments in what works, directing $57.2 million in grants to local public safety agencies in fiscal biennium 2015-17 to fund proven strategies to reduce recidivism and prison costs.

The law played an instrumental role in getting community-based agencies to evaluate their programs and prioritize those that are evidence-based. The Oregon Department of Corrections has been able to work with providers to build evaluation requirements into their contracts and, in some cases, to replace ineffective programs with ones that are backed by research.

Oregon has built upon this legislation with related efforts such as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which helps the state take money saved from lower incarceration rates and invest it in effective community programming, including those proven to reduce recidivism. The governor’s 2015 budget recommended $5 million for Oregon’s Pay for Prevention initiative to test locally tailored, evidence-based child welfare programs in communities across the state. In partnership with Results First, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission has also developed a robust cost-benefit analysis model.

In addition to allocating funds to effective interventions, the Oregon Youth Authority is developing a Program Evaluation Continuum model to feed providers real-time data on program success. “Promoting the use of evidence-based programs through legislation was a great start, but once we developed a strong research unit, we wanted to quantify effectiveness to answer the question of what actually happened with these programs,” said Shannon Myrick, strategic initiatives manager at the Oregon Youth Authority.

Oregon’s success with institutionalizing evidence-based policymaking through legislation can serve as an example to other states considering this approach. 

Sara Dube is the project director and Darcy White is an officer with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.