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January 29, 2024

Building the Foundation Needed to Achieve the Evidence Act’s Potential for Transforming Federal Policymaking

By Kelly Bidwell (GSA), Joseph Clift (USDA/FNS), Mary Hyde (AmeriCorps), and Lauren Supplee (HHS/ACF/OPRE)

The five-year anniversary of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (the Evidence Act) provides a point of reflection on the journey to ensure the Federal government centers its work in evidence building and use. Transforming Federal policymaking and practice by embedding evidence into agency operations does not happen overnight, but the Evidence Act, and subsequent guidance, provides a roadmap to guide Federal action.

Though our titles vary, each of us serves as the lead for well-established federal evaluation offices situated within different agencies across the government. All of our evaluation offices predate passage of the Evidence Act, and many have existed for 20 to 30 years. Our collective experience demonstrates that to build evidence and reach a steady state of integrating evidence into decision making takes time and sustained investment in financial and human capital. Below, we offer insights to share key enablers of success for building and strengthening evaluation offices across the Federal government.

A Quick Overview of Our Organizational Histories

Some of our evaluation offices go back almost 30 years.

Enablers of Success

Through our long histories, our evaluation offices have learned what facilitates success and how to establish the organizational structures to support that success. Based on empirical literature studying when, why, and how evidence is used in organizations, ACF OPRE developed an evidence capacity framework with five key dimensions of evidence capacity: culture, infrastructure, engagement, human capital and leadership. The examples below highlight ways each of our offices institutionalize these enablers of evidence use in our organizations. We hope these examples are useful to evaluation offices to set a vision for the future.

Culture is about how the organization uses evidence to support its work. Among our offices, we have integrated evidence into organizational culture by activities such as:

Infrastructure consists of evidence-related tools, budget, routines, and processes that enable the building and use of evidence. A strong evidence infrastructure requires elements such as:

Engagement focuses on the systems and processes to promote collaboration and communication about evidence. Research on evidence use consistently points to the importance of people – evidence is shared and used within the context of trusted relationships. Engagement can be supported through:

Human Capital ensures staff have the skills and expertise to build and understand evidence. Some ways we have strengthened human capital include:

Leadership is whether and how leaders foster an evidence culture including resources and processes to integrate evidence into everyday work.

Bringing it All Together

Spurred on by the Evidence Act, the field of evidence creation and use continues to grow and evolve. Though agencies across the Federal government have responded to the call by establishing Evaluation Officers, publishing Learning Agendas and Annual Evaluation Plans, and taking steps to build their evaluation and evidence building capacity, many have accomplished this with little to no additional investments in staffing or budgets. Especially for newer offices that have only emerged in the last five years, we recognize that it will take time for them to get established. Hopefully, the lessons shared here can help accelerate their progress by building awareness of, and an appreciation for, the key enablers for long term success.


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