Show Me the Evidence: Highlighting the Fight for Results in Social Policy
December 3, 2014 09:30 AM
A vast majority of social programs active today are never evaluated; those that do undergo evaluation are found to be ineffective. Yet these programs continue to be paid for by American taxpayers. In their new book Show Me the Evidence, authors Ron Haskins, Co-Director, Center on Children and Families and Senior Fellow of Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, and Greg Margolis, a former research analyst at Brookings, found that the Obama administration began expanding the work begun during the Bush presidency in planning, enacting, and implementing several initiatives to fund social programs based on rigorous evidence of success.
(See our exclusive interview with Haskins, below.)
"The authors make a compelling case that by creating a space at the table for evidence, the Obama administration has changed the public funding dynamic in important ways—it has raised the bar on 'evidence of promise,' created greater attention to and accountability for evidence of effectiveness, and stimulated more routine use of evidence to guide program improvement," says Rebecca Maynard, a Professor of Education and Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, in a recent review of the book.
Four years ago, Haskins discovered that the Obama administration was investing energy and political capital to change the way social programs were being funded and directing more resources to those programs that evidence showed were working. The book details six different initiatives, including behind-the-scenes descriptions of the "trench warfare" between administration officials and politicians to get favorable language into legislation. The book is a welcome contrast to the current "do-nothing" thinking of today's Congress, showing that determined, well-intentioned people can manage to get things done, rather than just campaign contributors and lobbyists.
Haskins and Margolis used more than 130 interviews with administration officials at the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, various federal agencies, Congress, and within the child advocacy community to detail the development and implementation of the social policy initiatives they describe within the book. These initiatives included preschool and K-12 education, teen pregnancy, employment and training, health, and community-based programs. The use of social science evidence to guide federal policy making and the operation of gederal grant programs gives hope that future policy programs will provide a seat for evaluation at the policy table. These six initiatives have so far impacted more than 700 state and federal programs, showing the potential in improving the country's social programs.
"The authors describe the Obama administration's remarkable initiatives in 'evidence-based policymaking,'" says Larry Mead, a Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York University, in a recent review. "In these cases, programs have been funded based on hard evidence about 'what works.' The authors tell the story masterfully, based on exhaustive research. Their conclusions are cautious but hopeful: making policy on the merits has not yet triumphed, but it is advancing."