Public Value Evidence for Public Value Outcomes: Integrating Public Values into Federal Policymaking

Nicholas Weller, Michelle Govani, and Mahmud Farooque, Arizona State University

The federal government––through efforts like the White House Year of Evidence for Action––has made a laudable push to ensure that policy decisions are grounded in empirical evidence. While these efforts acknowledge the importance of social, cultural and Indigenous knowledges, they do not draw adequate attention to the challenges of generating, operationalizing, and integrating such evidence in routine policy and decision making. In particular, these endeavors are generally poor at incorporating the living and lived experiences, knowledge, and values of the public. This evidence—which we call evidence about public values—provides important insights for decision making and contributes to better policy or program designs and outcomes. 

The federal government should broaden institutional capacity tocollect and integrate evidence on public values into policy and decision making. Specifically, we propose that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): 

  1. Provide a directive on the importance of public value evidence.
  2. Develop an implementation roadmap for integrating public value evidence into federal operations (e.g., describe best practices for integrating it into federal decision making, developing skill-building opportunities for federal employees). 

Using Unmet Desire Surveys to Advance Federal Learning Agendas and Build a Culture of Evidence

Adam Levine, Johns Hopkins University

2018’s Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) promotes a culture of evidence within federal agencies. A central part of that culture entails new collaboration between decision-makers and those with diverse forms of expertise inside and outside of the federal government. Federal Chief Evaluation Officers lead this effort, yet they face challenges getting buy-in from agency staff and in obtaining sufficient resources. One tool to overcome these challenges is an “unmet desire survey”, which prompts agency staff to reflect on how the success of their programs relates to what is happening elsewhere in other agencies and outside government, as well as consider what information about these other programs and organizations would help their work be more effective. The unmet desire survey is an important data-gathering mechanism in its own right, and also provides impetus for evaluation officers to engage in “matchmaking” between agency staff and people who have the information they desire. Using existing authorities and resources, agencies can pilot unmet desire surveys as a concrete mechanism for advancing federal learning agendas in a way that builds buy-in by directly meeting the needs of agency staff.

Launching an Intergovernmental Research and Evaluation Consortium on Economic Mobility

Kathy Stack, Yale University

Federal learning agendas and evaluation plans are typically tied to specific agencies and programs. This leaves a key gap: understanding how to optimize federal investments that are administered by different agencies and levels of government, but serve overlapping populations. One example is in the domain of social policy, where more than $900 billion of federal funds to support low-income individuals and families are administered by state and local agencies.

Over the last decade, philanthropic investments have seeded multiple groundbreaking partnerships between researchers and government that use linked administrative data to produce actionable insights for state and local decision-makers. These types of partnerships can be significantly faster and cheaper than conventional evaluation approaches—and represent building blocks for cohesive, intergovernmental research and evaluation consortiums (IRECs) with the potential to propel a new era in evidence-based policy.

Federal government should support a new economic-mobility IREC to drive meaningful improvements in the delivery and impact of federal tax credits as well as state and locally administered benefits and services. This arena is an excellent one in which to demonstrate the IREC proof of concept, given that economic mobility is an arena where (i) the majority of federal investments in low-income programs administered by state and local entities, (ii) greater coordination in delivering tax and other benefits could result in measurable improvements in economic mobility, (iii),  improved evaluation approaches could considerably improve client outcomes, and (iv) multiple building blocks for an IREC are already in place. For instance, a recent groundbreaking partnership between the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of the Treasury, and state agencies can serve as a blueprint for linking sensitive data in a way that generates powerful insights while protecting individual privacy, and for co-creating scalable process facilitators that lead to better, faster, and cheaper evaluations across a wide range of programs.