Concurrent Symposium: The Report on the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking
Amani Edwards, PhD Student
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York
Watch the recorded session.
Started under the Obama presidency with bi-partisan support, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking was tasked with developing rules, regulations, and processes for gathering and distributing data. Its main goal, as stated by commission member Katherine Abraham, was to make "more and better" evidence that would allow the federal government to make better decisions, with the hope for a future in which "rigorous evidence is used in future decisions." By gathering evidence through a standard system, agencies bureaucrats would have the necessary information - and access to information - to create public policies; and agencies would have the proper tools to implement policies.
In a time where political bi-partisanship is low and evidence and expertise are often challenged due to the increased access to information, the commission saw an opportunity to create a formal, official, and publicly available database. Each of the three symposium speakers outlined details of the plan, focusing on two main points: privacy and service. As access to information increases and digitizes, privacy becomes a significant barrier to achieving open data sharing. However, though privacy is necessary, the speakers did not stress limitations on access to the data.
Katherine Abraham from the University of Maryland pointed out the main tenets of the commission: to provide evidence that will inform future policy decisions. With an optimistic outlook on the future of data, she pointed to the need for a shared database for researchers and bureaucrats, stressing the term "access" and a "standardized" process for individuals and institutions looking to work with government data.
Robert Groves of Georgetown University focused mainly on the issue of privacy and how researchers are beginning to think about this issue as the demand for access to data grows. Alongside building agencies capability to generate evidence, agencies must also protect the privacy of its citizens, and themselves, while also protecting the data.
Paul Decker of Mathematica Policy Research focused on data service, calling it a "gate keeper." He called for the ease to access of the data service and also the combination of datasets to create better longitudinal data collection.
While the idea of evidence-based policymaking was accepted by the audience, some were concerned about the heavy focus on data science and not policymaking, stressing a need for more policy analysts. However, Paul Decker argued, and was later supported by an audience member, that more skilled data scientist and policy analysts were needed to prepare scholars and experts for the future in data analytics and machine learning. The panel allowed audience members to see the future of data science and public policy formulation and analysis and offered an optimistic outlook for the future of evidence-based policymaking and leadership.
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