This article is part of a series about how members of the Results First peer learning community are championing evidence-based policymaking.
As governors nationwide manage their responses to the coronavirus pandemic, their appointees and state agency staff can promote the use of data to help guide state policies and implement their visions for a successful recovery. For executive branch leaders facing reduced revenues and increased community needs, using insights gathered from rigorous evaluations to inform budget deliberations can lead to more efficient and effective decisions.
Gubernatorial appointees and agency staff can promote the use of research throughout the executive branch by helping to build a culture that encourages an evidence-based approach. For example, they can create partnerships within government and with external stakeholders and perform the daily activities, such as conducting program inventories and collecting data about current services, that provide a foundation for state evidence-based policymaking efforts. These strategies can help ensure that agencies have the capacity to perform this type of work and have an environment or culture where such decision-making is the valued norm, rather than the exception.
Through a peer-learning community established by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Results First initiative, state leaders are formalizing relationships with their colleagues to share best practices, troubleshoot common challenges, and develop new ideas for implementing evidence-based policymaking. The community includes elected officials, legislative staff, budget office directors and staff, gubernatorial appointees, and agency staff.
Many of the learning community members have already achieved results through their commitment to such an approach. Their efforts serve as useful guides for other state leaders on what is possible when states choose to invest in rigorous evidence to inform budget decisions.
Take, for example, North Carolina. Jenni Owen is a member of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Performance Management. As the state’s director of strategic partnerships, she coordinates research initiatives among state government, philanthropies, nonprofit groups, and higher education and research institutions to advance data-driven policymaking. Owen and her team work with state officials and external partners to identify priorities, convene networks of public sector and research experts, and develop learning opportunities for these stakeholders.
These efforts help the state deepen connections with external research expertise and increase internal agency capacity to conduct and use the resulting data and findings to improve policy, for example through the use of learning agendas and formal partnerships. Owen also sits on the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management’s Policy Council, a national organization dedicated to improving public policy and management; she is the only member currently serving in government.
Also in North Carolina, Karen Burkes serves as the deputy director and chief operating officer for the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services at the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). With the support of Results First, Burkes will lead the division’s effort to conduct an inventory of state mental health programs to help reveal which are supported by evidence to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. The division plans to use the inventory to propose increased or continued funding for programs shown to work and address any service gaps that may exist.
DHHS has used this approach before in other divisions. In 2017, the department’s public health division launched its work with Results First. That initial inventory, completed in May 2019, examined 13 programs that target chronic diseases and 18 focused on child and maternal health. Staff members presented the findings to the Legislature, providing insights that could affect future support for department programs. DHHS leaders plan to build on these inventories by working to promote a performance management culture that supports greater accountability and provides the best outcomes for those receiving the department’s services.
Along with their counterparts in other parts of state government, gubernatorial appointees and agency staff can help create an expectation that the use of evidence should be a priority and build a culture that relies on data and research to inform decision-making. These champions, along with the other champions profiled in this series, highlight the need for strong voices that support and promote evidence-based policymaking across state government, as well as the need for collaboration among decision-makers so that this work is sustained over time.
Sara Dube is a project director and Alex Sileo is a senior associate with the Results First initiative.