Publications

Testimony

Putting Rigorous Evidence at the Center of Policymaking

Comments to the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking

11/2016

Thank you for the opportunity to offer some thoughts on the opportunities and challenges facing effective evidence-building for you to consider in your important work with the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.

My name is Gordon Berlin, and I am President of MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization that is dedicated to learning what works to improve policies and programs that affect the poor. Founded in 1974, MDRC evaluates existing programs and develops new solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing social problems, using rigorous random assignment research designs or near equivalents to assess their impact.

The federal government spends billions of dollars on policies and programs designed to improve the human condition; ameliorate poverty; increase employment, earnings, and income; invest in education to build human capital; and ensure America’s competitive position in a technologically advancing world. But to make a real difference, to ensure a return on investment for both taxpayers and the beneficiaries of these programs, we have to do things that actually work.

Over the last decade and a half, during a period defined in the public consciousness by political partisanship, the legislative and executive branches have quietly forged a bipartisan consensus around the need to build evidence of effectiveness that would ensure high rates of return on investment for the nation’s social programs. The establishment by Congress of the new Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking is only the most recent example of this consensus.

My comments focus on the following issues: putting rigorous evidence at the center of policymaking, improving access to administrative data (while acknowledging its limitations), protecting confidentiality, bolstering the federal research agencies, addressing process and procurement issues, and maintaining the independence of third-party evaluators.