Management Matters

John Kamensky | February 6, 2019 | 0 Comments

Building a Culture of Informed Decision Making

A recent article by Ed O’Brien, an associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, observes that “people assume they can and will use more information to make their decisions than they actually do, according to the research.”

While this is distressing news to those who promote the use of evidence in decision making, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is an effort to actually change the culture within federal agencies to become more evidence-based in decision making. The recently signed Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 creates new momentum for this culture change.

This new law has three distinct sections:

Shortly after the law was signed, the National Academy of Public Administration hosted a panel to discuss the new law’s implementation. What follows are highlights of that conversation.

Key Implementation Challenges

Of course, the primary locus of implementation of the new law will be at the agency and program levels, but having the top institutions aligned will be important to sustain implementation over a period of years. Experts highlight two key challenges:

Parallel Centers of Influence

To align the top-level institutions of government around a common agenda and to create an evidence-based decision-making culture, there are three centers of influence that should be leveraged to ensure the law actually changes the culture and doesn’t just become another compliance exercise:

Anchoring Change Within Agencies

The agencies are where the work must be done to ensure the law does not become just another set of requirements to implement. If OMB and Congress truly want to institutionalize an evidence-driven culture in agencies, efforts will be needed to connect evidence and data to the management of actual programs, including at the state and local levels. A key piece of this will be the development of agency-level data governance that defines and leverages the roles of the newly-designated agency evaluation officers and chief data officers.

One approach might be for a third party to create a public scorecard for each agency to assess progress and allow agencies to compare themselves with their peers.  The right metrics would capture not just procedural changes but also the successful application of evidence to policy. A possible example is a scorecard developed by the nonprofit Results for America. In that scorecard, the Labor Department is one of the pioneering agencies that has made significant progress in embedding the use of evaluation and evidence into its decision-making process. Scorecards have been used in other program areas to draw attention to an initiative and create a sense of urgency for continued implementation momentum.