Report Outlines Enhanced Evidence-Based Policymaking Standards for States

New online tool shows benefits of using data, research to inform budget and policy decisions

Report Outlines Enhanced Evidence-Based Policymaking Standards for States

A new report from Results for America (RFA), a nonprofit organization that promotes evidence-based decision-making, aims to set national standards for how state governments use data and evidence to inform budget, policy, and management decisions. The analysis, “2018 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence,” identifies 15 “state standard criteria,” offers examples of how states are performing on each, and provides a roadmap to help states increase their use of evidence and data.

RFA also has created an online tool that allows users to see how their state is performing and what other states are doing.

Last year, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released “How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking,” a report that covered similar topics. The research represented a national assessment of how states are engaging with research and data-informed decisions. The RFA report uses data from this study to inform its analysis.

In the new study, researchers describe many innovative and promising examples of data-driven and evidence-based practices. Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington are among the states leading the way in embracing these efforts.

Of the 15 criteria, states seem most engaged in four areas: performance management, data use, cost-benefit analysis, and evidence definition and program inventory. A growing number also are taking action on four other criteria: innovation, data sharing and privacy policies/agreements, outcome data, and use of evidence in grant programs.

The online tool links to ongoing state efforts to use evidence and data to improve decision-making. For example, state leaders interested in making better use of data can learn about Kentucky’s efforts to connect high-quality, actionable data from five state agencies to improve education and workforce programs. Users also can explore California’s Open Data Portal, which houses nonconfidential health and human services data from 14 agencies in an effort to increase transparency, spark innovation, promote research and economic opportunities, and inform decision-making.

The new RFA report and the Results First work represent a broader ongoing effort to examine how states are using evidence-based policymaking. With this approach, state leaders examine public programs and the research behind them so they can allocate limited resources to those that are most effective and best suited for their communities.

In the last decade, as states faced significant economic uncertainty, enthusiasm for evidence-based policymaking increased. Still, many state officials continue to struggle with how to implement the approach in a way that yields measurable outcomes. This new report is the latest resource that government leaders can turn to for guidance.

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

Evidence-based policymaking
Evidence-based policymaking
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How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking

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Evidence-based policymaking is the systematic use of findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses (“evidence”) to guide government policy and funding decisions. By focusing limited resources on public services and programs that have been shown to produce positive results, governments can expand their investments in more cost-effective options, consider reducing funding for ineffective programs, and improve the outcomes of services funded by taxpayer dollars.