Scientists and researchers like to think that if our leaders would only stick to the facts, the data would make many of our hard decisions for us. Unfortunately, some of the most contentious debates don’t hinge solely on facts – sometimes because of insufficient data, sometimes because values are at play. However, data has a solid role to play in narrowing down the available options in our decision sets.
For many problems that we want to solve (e.g., homelessness, addiction, threats of hurricane damage, disease, you name it) a variety of organizations have developed potential solutions that attack each problem from different angles. Determining which of the solutions to each problem are effective requires evaluation. When there is a limited amount of funding to go around evaluation is particularly important and helps organizations compete for funding.
A recent article in The Atlantic encourages more use of evaluation in government decision making. In particular, the authors advocate evaluating our program and policy efforts to see whether they are achieving the desired outcomes. Their advice is to start with “collecting more information on what works and what doesn’t”, make sure results are communicated systematically to lawmakers, and then hold lawmakers accountable for achieving a results-driven government.
We regularly help our clients to evaluate their efforts. We help them to determine what’s working and what isn’t, and measure their impacts in the community. This information is useful for all funders, not just the government. And it’s also worth noting that the government funds a great deal of activities beyond social programs (in fact, social programs make up only a tiny sliver of the small piece of pie allotted to discretionary spending), but evaluation and other research methods can be applied to make the most of those other dollars too, as the Atlantic article also notes.