This week’s article is much shorter than usual because I hope you will follow the links below and do the majority of your reading there.
A very timely opinion piece ran in the New York Times on May 30 called: “The Dawn of the Evidence-Based Budget”. The article references a May 18 memo from Jeffrey Zients at the OMB which urges agencies and departments to incorporate facts, data and evidence of program effectiveness in their FY14 budget submissions.
The message couldn’t be more urgent or important and yet it was likely lost in the mountain of memos that circulate in DC daily. My informal poll of several senior public servants and private sector consultants to government revealed not a single person who was aware of the memo or the article.
This is unfortunate. As the material points out, it’s high time that governments begin to follow the lead of science, business, medicine and other disciplines where data-based decision-making is concerned. The “evidence-based” movement in healthcare, for example has led to tremendous improvements since the days when doctors dispensed advice based mainly on their own professional opinions and experience rather than also considering evidence gathered through a scientific approach. In government social policy and programs, randomized studies with control groups are relatively simple, cost-effective ways to evaluate programs. Impact and ROI analyses are similarly straight-forward provided that metrics on programs are diligently collected.
The main point is that metrics, measurement and evidence-based arguments are far more compelling than hunches or individual “expert opinion” and are much more likely to result in better decision-making and budget allocations. Indeed, Zients and the OMB are warning that budget requests that fail to include evidence, will be met with a great deal more scrutiny than in the past. In fact the memo states: “… the Budget is more likely to fund requests that demonstrate a commitment to developing and using evidence.”
This approach will require a different mindset in agencies and departments that have not yet adopted it (the vast majority). If the memo is taken seriously and enforced, the government could move to an environment in which conclusions are not made without exploration of alternatives, where the business case for significant expenditures is always a requirement and where Return on Investment (ROI) analysis is a standard.