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The Facts Are In: Evidence-Based Policymaking Works

Hannah Nequist on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 12:00:00 pm

Policymakers today face tough budget and policy choices that affect the outcomes they can deliver for citizens. By using "rigorous evidence" to inform these decisions, policymakers can achieve better results by funding public programs that are proven to work. "Rigorous evidence" is data from programs that has been evaluated multiple times and found to be reliable by using rigorous testing methods such as randomized controlled trials and statistically controlled evaluations.

New Mexico has become a national leader with its sophisticated evidence-based approach that measures the costs and benefits of public service programs to improve policy and budget decisions. Since state policymakers began partnering with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in 2011, they have a clearer picture of the value of taxpayer investments and they can direct resources to the most effective programs. By using the Results First model, New Mexico has:

  • Helped inform legislative funding decisions to direct $49.6 million to evidence-based programs that will deliver high returns for New Mexico residents.
  • Shifted funds from ineffective programs to alternative programs that analysis shows will improve outcomes for citizens. 
  • Compared the long-term costs and benefits of critical programs in adult and juvenile justice, child welfare, mental health and substance abuse, and early childhood. 

In a Sept. 17 letter to the director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce said "The goals of Results First are aligned with many of the Chamber's policy priorities, including transparency and accountability in government, fiscal responsibility, reducing crime and recidivism, and improving education and child welfare outcomes. Because of this alignment, the Chamber's Board has voted to approve an official position supporting Results First."

New Mexico legislators continue working closely with the state's Sentencing Commission and Corrections Department to support ongoing criminal justice reforms and to explore effective means for reducing crime at lower costs. The same approach will be used in other policy areas such as juvenile justice, behavior health, and public education. Details of the New Mexico experience are available in a new 12-page report, "New Mexico's Evidence-based approach to Better Governance," by the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. It highlights next steps for using the Results First approach and how other state policymakers can benefit from it. The report also offers insights from New Mexico's experience and key considerations for using the approach.

With Results First, governments can reduce wasteful spending, expand innovative programs, and strengthen accountability. For details about building a system of evidence-based governing, see Evidence-based Policymaking: A Guide for Effective Government from the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. This 25-page report explains five key components of evidence-based policymaking:

  • Program assessment. Systematically reviewing available evidence on the effectiveness of public programs. 
  • Budget development. Incorporating evidence of program effectiveness into budget and policy decisions, giving funding priority to programs that deliver a high return on investment of public funds.
  • Implementation oversight. Ensuring that programs are effectively delivered and are faithful to their intended design.
  • Outcome monitoring. Routinely measuring and reporting outcome data to determine whether interventions are achieving desired results.
  • Target evaluation. Conducting rigorous evaluations of new and untested programs to ensure that they warrant continued funding. 

Tags: Policy, ROI

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