A place to convene. A place to discuss. A place for ideas.

Reports: How to Prove Policymaking Success

By Ideas Lab Staff May 7, 2013

The Hamilton Project at Brookings and Results for America released two papers on the role of evidence in policymaking.

Policymakers across the country have emphasized the need to fund existing and new programs that solve social problems, such as obesity, or create ways to train workers for jobs that continue to evolve. But, especially in an era of belt-tightening at all levels of government, lawmakers also are pressed to demonstrate that these programs actually succeed.

Two papers, released in April by The Hamilton Project at Brookings and Results for America, examine the role of evidence and results in such policymaking. During a forum to release the papers, several lawmakers and policy experts discussed the importance of harnessing evidence to improve federally funded programs. Jeffrey B. Liebman, an author of one of the papers who also is a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, discussed a new proposal on reforming government funding practices to reward innovation and evidence.

Workforce Training Potential

In one paper, Using Evidence to Improve Workforce Training Choices, authors Louis Jacobson and Robert LaLonde propose a federal competition that incentivizes states to assemble data on workforce training programs and disseminate information in a way that improves outcomes of American workers.

According to an abstract of the paper, the plan will increase the return on training investments by developing the data and measures necessary to provide information for trainees and by creating incentives for states to implement permanent information systems once they prove cost-effective. The plan also suggests presenting data in user-friendly “report cards” and providing help for prospective trainees to use the information effectively.

“With the earnings divide between skilled and unskilled workers at a historic high, iti s imperative that we raise overall workforce skills in order to enhance America’s competitiveness and ensure economic growth for all Americans,” the abstract states.

Evidence-Based Policymaking

Liebman’s paper outlines five steps for policymakers to take to better inform their work and provides a framework for thinking about which strategy is the best fit for achieving a given policy objective.

“The current fiscal environment makes it imperative that we produce more value with each dollar that government spends,” the paper’s abstract states. “Doing so will require better use of evidence in policymaking.”

Proposals include giving agencies the authority to reserve a percentage of program spending to fund program evaluations and expanding the use of tiered evidence standards in grant competitions.

Liebman also recommends an initiative called the Ten-Year Challenge, which would tackle 10 social problems using data-driven, outcome-focused initiatives in 100 communities. Another initiative, a federal Pay for Success program, would help state and local governments establish projects in fields like early-childhood education, where state and local activity has the potential to achieve federal policy objectives or produce budget savings at the federal level, the abstract states.