July | August 2017







Pew Report Finds States Increasingly Use Data in Policy, Funding Decisions

By Carrie Abner, CSG assistant director of communications and membership
Agencies hoping to secure funding in state budgets for new programs often have to answer a few key questions before their requests are approved. How will the funding be used? How will the program meet an identified need? Who and how many will benefit from the program? But state agencies in Utah that approach the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget are now met with an additional challenge from the governor’s budget staff.
“Show me the data.”
The Beehive State has made taking an evidence-based approach to policy, programming and funding decisions a high priority in recent years, demanding greater levels of data and research to support the use of state resources. In his fiscal year 2015 budget, Gov. Gary Herbert allocated $1.86 million to support criminal justice programs shown by research to reduce recidivism rates, and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, or GOMB, now requires agencies seeking funding in the state budget to show how the proposed program is evidence-based or supported by research, data, evaluation, or professional or industry standards.
“GOMB works with cabinet-level agencies to measure, track and improve the performance of their major systems of operations; currently GOMB is tracking the performance of approximately 110 systems,” said Kris Cox, Utah GOMB executive director. “These performance measures are tied to the GOMB budget process by analyzing budget requests against the trends in performance relative to volume, quality and cost.”
According to a recently published report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, titled “How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking,” Utah is one of five leading states in evidence-based policymaking across the country. The report, part of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, examines states’ efforts to employ research and evidence to inform budget and policy decisions, specifically in the areas of behavioral health, child welfare, criminal justice and juvenile justice.
The Results First Initiative, which is nearly seven years old, works directly with state and local policymakers in 22 states and eight counties across the country to identify and invest in effective policies and programs.
“Evidence-based policymaking is gaining popularity around the country and we have some information about it how it’s working in the states… through our direct technical assistance and training work,” said Sara Dube, director of the Results First Initiative. But, Dube said, the “first-of-its-kind report” helped provide a more comprehensive assessment of efforts to incorporate an evidence-based approach in policymaking across all 50 states.
And the results, she said, are pretty positive.
“Most states are doing some form evidence-based policymaking, which is certainly encouraging,” Dube said. “They’re taking some action in least one of the four policy areas we looked at.”
But the degree to which states have adopted evidence-based policymaking, both in terms of the quantity of actions and sophistication of those actions, varies.
“The advanced use of evidence-based policymaking is much more limited,” Dube said.
The study categorized the 50 states into four groups—leading, established, modest and trailing—based on their level of evidence-based policymaking in the four policy areas they examined.
Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, in addition to Utah, were identified as the leading states, according to Dube, demonstrating the most advanced use of research in policy and funding decisions, both in terms of the quantity and sophistication of those efforts.
“Those five (leading) states not only do more with evidence-based policymaking across those policy areas, but they also take more advanced actions within those areas. For example, they may have a very systematic way to conduct cost-benefit analysis and then incorporate that data into the budgeting process,” Dube said.
That’s the case in Utah, where program performance measures are considered during the budget process.
“The overall intent of using evidence-based data for new budget requests as well as follow up is to determine if the funding is actually providing the intended results,” said Cox. “Positive results provide the business case for additional resources while neutral or poor results signal the need for a course correction or different strategy.”
While states like Utah are leading the pack in incorporating research into policy and funding decisions, other states are following suit. The report identifies some key steps that states in other categories can take to move up the ladder.
“It really comes down to sophistication,” said Dube. “States in the modest category are engaging in evidence-based policymaking in some way, but are not taking actions as sophisticated as those that states in the established and leading categories are taking.”
Building stakeholder support, educating decision-makers and others about the importance of an evidence-based approach, committing to using evidence in policymaking, developing staff capacity and creating a sufficient data infrastructure to support evidence-based policymaking are all important steps for states to take as they advance efforts to strengthen evidence-based policymaking, according to the report.
Ultimately, Dube said, developing an evidence-based policymaking approach requires states to create a culture that supports such an approach to policymaking.
“Culture change is hard and takes time,” said Dube. “Some good first steps are to follow the actions laid out in the report and to build stakeholder support so that, ideally, the state’s commitment to evidence-based policymaking remains even in light of turnover.”
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