By Karen Anderson
In January 2015, we launched Results for All with a deep curiosity about how governments around the world are using data and evidence to drive outcomes. What policies, programs and practices are being used, how are they being instituted, and who are the champions for evidence use? Do political appointees drive evidence-informed policymaking in the executive branch, the civil service, or is the push coming from the legislative branch?
Based on our experience in the United States, through our work with Results for America, we knew that the answers would be mixed. In our case, much of the innovative work to promote the use of data and evidence is happening at the local level, with mayors and county executives understanding the need to produce more for their constituents with fewer resources. At the federal level, the G.W. Bush and Obama presidential administrations both had deep commitments to evidence-informed policymaking, instituting programs and practices that laid the groundwork for more rigorous data collection, program evaluation and outcomes-focused budgeting.
We began exploring the global evidence landscape through our work by organizing Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum for Government, an event we co-hosted with Nesta’s Alliance for Useful Evidence. Bringing 140 policymakers from 40 countries together – from Australia, Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe – we learned about the very significant work underway in a variety of contexts – from challenges to solutions, lessons learned and best practices.
The learnings from Evidence Works 2016 served as a foundation for additional outreach and research we conducted for the landscape review of government mechanisms to advance the use of data and evidence in policymaking. This review, which will be released later this month, is the culmination of 18 months of conversations, interviews and country visits to learn more about ways in which governments around the world are institutionalizing the use of data and evidence in decision-making. Coupled with an extensive literature review, we’re confident that we’ve captured a range of examples that showcase what governments are doing to promote evidence-informed policymaking. Our hope is that this will be a useful resource that can be improved with additional knowledge and input over time.
As we finalize the landscape review, what have we learned? The short answer is that we’ve learned more than we thought possible. But here are some of my personal observations:
The evidence movement is relatively young and truly global. In the last five to seven years, policymakers at all levels of government and in all parts of the world have been implementing policies, platforms and practices to incorporate data and evidence into decision making. The diversity of examples will be surprising to many readers.
There is no single or best type of evidence. Governments are different and need a diversity of approaches for tackling their challenges. From data analytics to behavioral insights to impact evaluation, there is a broad evidence spectrum and a need for tools and resources to promote uptake across that spectrum.
There is a general disconnect between evidence producers and evidence users that needs to be addressed. A number of organizations and academic institutions are working to address problems of knowledge translation, and to sensitize researchers to the need for timely, relevant evidence that meets the demands of decision-makers. At the same time, governments are building skills and capacity to use outside sources of evidence that they deem credible and trustworthy. While progress is being made to close the gap, more work needs to be done, and this is a barrier to evidence use that exists in the north and south, and at all levels of government.
Evidence-informed policymaking can only occur if there is a sustained demand for evidence. Producing evidence in a timely and accessible manner is a first step, but without demand from policymakers for evidence, there is little chance that it will be used. In some cases, internal champions can start a movement and even build networks of support within government for evidence-informed policymaking. In other cases, outside organizations have led the charge, with direct advocacy campaigns and through building public support for evidence. This is a key area where governments can continue to learn from each other about what works and share experiences that can help propel the evidence movement forward.
Having the right mechanisms in place to promote evidence-informed policymaking is critical. The landscape review focuses primarily on the infrastructure, policies and practices that strengthen government’s ability to use data and evidence. We highlight the four key conditions that enable the use of data and evidence at a government or institution level: (1) commitment, (2) allocation of resources, (3) incentives, and (4) a culture that supports learning and improving. In addition to technical support, information sharing and networking can help build and strengthen capacity and know-how; we shouldn’t underestimate the power and value of peer-to-peer learning in driving the evidence agenda forward.
It has been an immense pleasure to help launch Results for All and to explore the global evidence landscape. I’ll look forward to the reactions to the landscape review and to keeping in touch with Results for All during its next phase of work.
I’m delighted to announce that Abeba Taddese, who currently serves as the Program Director for Results for All, will take over as Executive Director on July 1. I have accepted a position with the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economic Research, once again focusing on evidence production — helping University of Chicago economists produce accessible and relevant research that can inform the public debate.
Thank you for welcoming us into the global evidence community and I hope that our paths cross again soon. You can continue to reach Abeba at Abeba@Results4All.org, and you should look for communications around the landscape review in the near future.