Evidence-Based Government Is Alive and Well

Article by Zina Hutton: “A desire to discipline the whimsical rule of despots.” That’s what Gary Banks, a former chairman of Australia’s Productivity Commission, attributed the birth of evidence-based policy to back in the 14th century in a speech from 2009. Evidence-based policymaking isn’t a new style of government, but it’s one with well-known roadblocks that elected officials have been working around in order to implement it more widely.

Evidence-based policymaking relies on evidence — facts, data, expert analysis — to shape aspects of long- and short-term policy decisions. It’s not just about collecting data, but also applying it and experts’ analysis to shape future policy. Whether it’s using school enrollment numbers to justify building a new park in a neighborhood or scientists collaborating on analysis of wastewater to try to “catch” illness spread in a community before it becomes unmanageable, evidence-based policy uses facts to help elected and appointed officials decide what funds and other resources to allocate in their communities.

Problems with evidence-based governing have been around for years. They range from a lack of communication between the people designing the policy and its related programs and the people implementing them, to the way that local government struggles to recruit and maintain employees. Resource allocation also shapes the decisions some cities make when it comes to seeking out and using data. This can be seen in the way larger cities, with access to proportionately larger budgets, research from state universities within city limits and a larger workforce, have had more success with evidence-based policymaking.
“The largest cities have more personnel, more expertise, more capacity, whether that’s for collecting administrative data and monitoring it, whether that’s doing open data portals, or dashboards, or whether that’s doing things like policy analysis or program evaluation,” says Karen Mossberger, the Frank and June Sackton Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University. “It takes expert personnel, it takes people within government with the skills and the capacity, it takes time.”

Roadblocks aside, state and local governments are finding innovative ways to collaborate with one another on data-focused projects and policy, seeking ways to make up for the problems that impacted early efforts at evidence-based governance. More state and local governments now recruit data experts at every level to collect, analyze and explain the data generated by residents, aided by advances in technology and increased access to researchers…(More)”.