Ron Haskins delivered a lively and engaging presidential address on Friday evening. Focused on the importance of the evidence-based movement to illicit change, Haskins’ talk was guided by the central question, “Will evidence-based programs solve social problems?”
Noting that nine out of ten social programs prove unsuccessful upon evaluation, Haskins asserted that the policy community must raise the bar on what we demand from social programs. In his view, raising the bar is directly related to programmatic evaluation that seeks to measure the effectiveness of particular programs and utilizes the results of evaluation as evidence for if programs should persist or not.
This shift in focus to evidence, according to Haskins, has been emboldened by the Obama Administration, who has began the work to incorporate evaluation as an integral aspect upon which support of federally funded programs and policies is based.
Though Haskins heralded evaluation and evidence as a positive advancement in policy, he did acknowledge the tensions that a focus on evaluation could generate in policymakers and implementers. In his view, implementers and policymakers are often fearful of evaluation, due to the backlash they may receive as a result of unfavorable results. Haskins reasoned that this fear of evaluation must be quashed and trusting partnerships must be created between policymakers and evaluators that privileges understanding what works and what does not over all else. According to Haskins, this is the best way to effect change and should be the future of the policy field.
Haskins belief is that the evidence-based movement has the potential to allow for greater innovation in policies, the development of higher standards, and ultimately, the ability to replicate successful programs in order to effect change. In closing, Haskins urged the APPAM policy community to base their understanding of programs on evidence, rather than experience.