#2015APPAM Student Summary: Adding a Pillar to Evidence-Based Management Symposium
Isla Schuchs Carr, Ph.D. Student
Mississippi State University
In his opening remarks, symposium chair Robert Doar, from the American Enterprise Institute, dedicated the discussion to Dennis C. Smith, a longtime APPAM member and chair of the Public Management section of the Program Committee, who passed away this past summer. He then introduced the three speakers, Vivian Tseng from the W.T. Grant Foundation, Carolyn Heinrich from Vanderbilt University and James Knickman from the New York Health Foundation.
Tseng spoke on the importance of, and difficulty in, using evidence-based research to drive decision-making. She identified some of the factors that can complicate the connections between evidence and decision-making, including politics, professional judgement, funding, local data, values and experience. Tseng also discussed the importance of the social side of evidence use, primarily the trust and relationships between the researchers and policy-makers. She also emphasized the importance of intermediary learning communities.
Heinrich presented on the need to build capacity for results-focused public management. She stressed the importance of research-to-practice partnerships, as well as to generate and use evidence to guide implementation of policies and program improvement. “When we get on the ground, we get insights that may fundamentally change our understanding of what is the best approach,” Heinrich said. She gave an example of her work evaluating supplemental tutorial programs in school districts: districts were able to make decision that saved them money, and increased the effectiveness of the program by utilizing the research she provided.
Knickman discussed his experience dealing with managers in health policy. He pointed out that, although they are usually private sector employees, unlike many other policy area managers in areas such as education and environmental policy, healthcare managers have similarities with their public sector counterparts. Recent shifts in healthcare data storage and management have made it easier to use evidence to inform decision-making. These shifts have also transformed management values. According to Knickman, healthcare managers used to be driven by efficiency and fee-based services, whereas now they are responding to more value-based improvements. Instead of cost-recovery based decisions, managers are now primarily focused on how to get and keep people healthy.
A repeated theme that emerged during the Q&A session was the necessity for trust between the researcher and the policy-maker. Tseng said that often times managers feel that research is being done to them and not for them. APPAM President-Elect Ron Haskins commented that some of this distrust has come from past experiences where unethical researchers have oversold and overpromised results, such as in the case of the long-term effects of preschool.