Government policymakers regularly use data and evidence to inform decisions, but the time needed to do their own analyses and studies may not neatly align with their needs. This can leave decision-makers in a bind when considering whether to implement a program or policy in their jurisdiction. But today they can turn to national research clearinghouses as resources that can shed critical light on what has—or has not—worked elsewhere.
Having access to quality data and information can be especially important when dealing with controversial topics and policies such as police body-worn camera programs. These programs have become an increasingly popular topic in public safety conversations around the country. Public interest in—and funding for—such camera programs has surged in recent years because of communities’ desire to better understand, monitor, and ultimately change police and citizen interactions. But do they work? Do these programs achieve the desired outcomes?
Fortunately, quality research on body-worn camera programs is available to help policymakers with deliberations that may be taking place as many communities are coming together to review police practices. One recent study comes out of The Lab @ DC, a policy lab that provides lawmakers in the District of Columbia with timely and relevant analyses to inform decisions. The study found that D.C.’s body-worn cameras had no significant impact on police officers’ behavior, their use of force, or the number of arrests made for disorderly conduct when compared with officers who did not wear such cameras.
Decision-makers can easily find these results along with similar studies on body-worn cameras by going to the CrimeSolutions.gov clearinghouse. The clearinghouse includes information on hundreds of programs, identifies key details and findings from rigorous evaluations, and assigns each program an effectiveness rating (“effective,” “promising,” or “no effects”). The presentation makes it easy to quickly interpret the results. For example, the District’s body-worn camera program received a rating “no effects” based on the study’s findings.
CrimeSolutions.gov is one of many research clearinghouses that gather and synthesize existing research on public programs and practices. Others focus on topics such as education, behavioral health, youth development, and child welfare.
The Results First Clearinghouse Database takes this ability to find reliable evidence one step further by bringing together data from nine national research clearinghouses. This database helps users easily access and understand findings from the highest quality research. It also can provide decision-makers with insights into which programs have and have not worked—before they invest public resources into any particular one.
Since government policymakers at all levels are responsible for budgeting taxpayer dollars, they can benefit from a more robust understanding of public programs: how effective they are, if they’ve produced positive results, and whether they would be appropriate for specific communities. Research clearinghouses can help fill the knowledge gap and enable decision-makers to make timely and evidence-informed choices.
Sara Dube is a director and Mara Weinstein is a principal associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.