by Thomas Wilson, University of Baltimore Masters in Administration Candidate
Five leaders in the evidence-based research in public policy space convened on this panel to discuss industry evolution and their experiences with it. The recurring message of the panel was big data and how to properly use it. Data mining and data analysis applications have become standard fair for public policy solutions. The panel, with the sum of over a century of experience, gave their take on how they have navigated this new era of policy making. The panel was broken up in 3 categories of questioning; what are the successes and challenges in evidence based policy solutions?; how have your organizations changed with the times to keep up with the changing landscape of policy?; what about big data?; and finally, what are your diversity and inclusion initiatives?
Gordon Berlin of MDRC began the discussion by acknowledging the lead the Obama administration took in pushing evidence-based policy in budgeting and program evaluation. This multi-tiered evidence structure quietly began to identify best practices and programs in the field that were working. He acknowledged a schools program in NYC that directly targeted disadvantaged youth in the Bronx and Brooklyn. This program yielded significant increases in graduation rates. He also identified the main challenge of evidence-based policy solutions as being: How do we scale these programs to make them complementary in nature instead of standalone tradeoffs between other programs.
The panel also acknowledged the need to establish a very real distinction between data and evidence. Data is not synonymous with evidence. Methodology must be applied to translate the data into evidence-based research.
When discussing the changes these organizations have had to make over their lifespan, big data and tech were the resounding topics of discussion. The use of big data and the applications that are used to mine data has broadened the horizons of research. What has also changed is the relationship of these organizations to their clients. These relationships have become much more fluid and the research has been made more accessible to decision makers. The goal is no longer to make standalone papers that may or may not be picked up by a decision maker and translated into a program. Paul Decker of Mathematica described it as more of a management consulting relationship now.
On the subject of diversity, Sarah Wartell of Urban Institute dedicated the bulk of her input to providing insight on diversity and inclusion. She mentioned the ways in which race, if left out of data, ignores very real trends and correlations that can be insightful. All of the panelists expressed the advantages of diversity both from the broadened accessibility of research, and the value add of varying perspectives.