The new world of evidence-based practice
August 20, 2012
In what’s called ‘the dawn of the evidence-based budget’, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget announced that for the 2014 budget process, agencies must include information about how they plan to evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes, and link disbursements to their evidence. While accountability remains a key component, another essential element will be innovation, which strengthens strategic approaches.
Within the last 20 years, of 10 major federal initiatives studied, all but one revealed modest or no impacts, according to New York Times’ David Boorstein (May 2012). As funds are scarce, competition great, and the role of government a topic of hot debate, ‘effectiveness’ will become the key metric to future survival.
Public entities will look and talk like private enterprises, documenting inputs and outputs, unit costs, and promise ‘return on investment’ portfolios. Expertise from this front comes largely from think tanks and public policy institutes, many of which are privately funded ‘to facilitate the effectiveness of the policymaking process’ via state, regional, and international networks.
In 2008, the top three countries having specialised think tanks were the US with 1,777, the UK with 283, and Germany, with 186. To learn more about emerging issues and trends regarding ‘go-to’ think tanks, visit the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tank Civil Societies Programme.
While the privatisation of public services runs apace, extolling the virtues of public-private partnerships at all levels, the public agenda is animated at the grassroots level thanks to President Barack Obama’s ‘hope and change’ 2008 campaign. This effort generated an unprecedented scale of grassroots activism, attracting millions usually disengaged from the democratic political process, to new heights of dialogue and imagination. It combined old-fashioned organising with new social technologies to effective results.
President Obama’s movement for change proved what many organisers claimed: leading with values over issues can be widely effective in mobilising everyday people. But what was not well understood was that the wave of activism to transform a backlogged, progressive legislative agenda needed to be sustained in the face of an obstinate business and political establishment keen to thwart the president’s social agenda. Compromise and bi-partisanship was no longer possible with the rare exception of the affordable care act – a major achievement – equal in stature as President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 voting rights act.
This fall’s November election will set the table for the next ten years, more or less. The challenge will be to mobilise a comparable turnout as in 2008, especially the 18-30 year old cohort of voters.
We are in the moment of ‘movement metrics’ – converting organising passions and alliances into a greater narrative of policies and transformation. Effective government versus the primacy of large private interests. Because Americans do not like the idea of granting controlling power to one party, it is very likely that we will continue with a divided government, just enough to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff. On the private sector side, a divided government will cause ‘uncertainties’, inhibiting long-term investment and job creation, dampening wage growth, tax revenues, and consumption, the worst of all possible scenarios.
Regardless of the winner, economic proposals which demonstrate cost-effective strategies using privatised approaches will become the golden path in the new world of public sector evidence-based practice. Let’s hope it pays off.