Session Summary: Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy
Miron Straf of the National Academies of Science moderated a deep discussion centered on his book Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy, published by the National Research Council. Kenneth Prewitt, a co-editor for the book, presented findings, while Ron Haskins and Vivian Tseng, both from the Brookings Institution, and Doug Besharov, from the University of Maryland, provided discussion. (The book is available at The National Academies website http://www.nap.edu/.)
The background for this book comes in part from the frustration that many researchers have felt when their work is not used in the policy-making process. Prewitt stated that this struggle to use scientific evidence in policy has occurred throughout history and that policies today that do incorporate evidence are “evidence-infused” and not “evidence-based.” He suggested that the "use" of evidence needs to be empirically studied and that there is no clear way forward at this time.
Vivian Tseng pointed out that the users of evidence need to be better understood in order to advance this field. She spoke of promising research on relationships between peers and intermediaries and how these relationships affect the use of research in policy.
Ron Haskins presented a different picture in which research is an admittedly small sliver in the policy process. This is beginning change, particularly within the Obama presidency. He referred to the Obama/Orszag/Gordon approach that gives priority to programs with strong evidence and uses evidence-tiers. His last point emphasized the need for a science of implementation, but was optimistic about future use of evidence in policy.
The third discussant, Doug Besharov, praised the book and recommended that a next step is to develop a model that could be tested with practical cases. One distinction he made was the difference between policies and programs, which he said are often conflated. This echoed Ron Haskins’ earlier call for a separate science of implementation.
Contributed by Brent Gibbons, University of Maryland