Leaders in Salt Lake County, Utah, observed a troubling trend in one of its communities, the Kearns Metro Township: They found that local youth had higher rates of alcohol and nicotine use, gang involvement, and mental health symptoms as compared to the rest of the state.
They convened a community coalition—with local government representatives, community members, and service providers—to review the resources offered to youth to see if there was a way to address this problem. The coalition inventoried available public programs, compared those programs to the needs identified, and found areas where more resources could help mitigate the trends they had observed. After consulting a national research clearinghouse to find programs that have been rigorously evaluated and proved effective in serving populations similar to theirs, the coalition chose two new programs—shown to help reduce substance use in adolescents—to support families and help youth avoid risky behaviors.
Many county leaders are on the frontlines of delivering crucial services to their communities. Yet without a robust understanding of what needs exist, what programs are offered, and which are most effective, these decision makers are ill-equipped to make strategic choices that best serve their constituents.
Evidence-based policymaking—which uses the best available research and information on program effectiveness to guide funding and policy decisions—can help county commissioners, managers, agency heads, and others determine what programs can provide the greatest impact for their residents.
A new report from the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative and the National Association of Counties takes a first-of-its kind look at how counties engage in evidence-based policymaking. According to the report’s findings, some counties across the country are indicating an interest in using evidence—in a variety of ways, across a wide swath of policy areas—to make their decisions more effective and efficient. For example, counties are:
Though some counties have started incorporating evidence into their budget and policy decisions, many of these efforts are in their infancy. The report ffers more examples of jurisdictions employing evidence, as well as some observations about trends, lessons learned, and ways local governments can advance the use of evidence in their communities. For more information or to see the full report, visit the Results First website.
Sara Dube is a director and Priya Singh is a senior associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.