Use of Evidence to Drive Decision-Making in Government

Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research
Feb 20, 2019
Julieta Lugo-Gil, Dana Jean-Baptiste, and Livia Frasso Jaramillo

Key Findings:

  • Findings from the literature review identified the following challenges in using evidence in policy decision-making: misalignment between the research conducted and the evidence that is needed for decision-making, many factors can impact the use of research evidence daring the complicated process of policy decision-making, and evidence producers and decision- rarely use frameworks that bridge the gap between research and practice.
  • The literature review also revealed strategies to break down barriers to using evidence, including improving relationships between evidence producers and decision-makers and establishing capacity for staff and an infrastructure in government for accessing relevant research.
  • The subject matter interviews revealed the following barriers to using evidence in decision-making within the government, many of which corroborate findings from the literature review: evidence is not usually available at the time decisions are being made and researchers do not gear their research results to decision-makers, governmental leaders and staff tasked with making program or policy decisions may not understand the purpose and application of evidence, and organizational influences within government agencies such as budget constraints and the lack of a coordinated, functional process to regulate the production and use of evidence.
  • Interview respondents pointed out a number of factors that facilitate the use of evidence in decision-making, including establishing collaborative relationships between evidence producers and decision-makers, building trust in the evidence that researchers produce and in the decision-makers that use the evidence within the government, improving clarity on how different types of research and their findings can be used in decision-making, and having leadership that supports and promotes the use of evidence and buy-in from the organization’s staff.
This report presents the findings from the Policy Analysis and Decision-Making Capacity project, funded by the Office of Science and Data Policy within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ASPE). During Phase 1 of the project, we conducted a review to assess grey and peer-reviewed literature describing whether and how effectively decision-makers use program evaluation findings to inform their decisions on programs and policies. In Phase 2, we conducted interviews with thought leaders and experts in the fields of evaluation, dissemination, and using evidence to drive decision-making. The purpose of the interviews was to understand the context of how evaluation and research results are used to make decisions within government and to identify opportunities for improvements in that decision-making process in addition to what we found in the literature. Plans for Phase 3 of the project, which may be conducted at a later date, include convening a technical expert panel to further discuss potential opportunities to create or improve a systematic approach to using evidence for decision-making within government, and particularly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).