Edge Leadership Message: The Principles of Evidence-Based Policy
Brian J. McCabe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development in the Office of Policy Development and Research.
Earlier this year, I joined a panel to discuss social scientists working in government for a group of doctoral students interested in public policy. Although the panel touched on many aspects of public service, we focused largely on the way that federal agencies, including HUD, use data and research in the policy development process.
From my perspective within the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), it’s clear to me that HUD is exceptionally good at collecting and utilizing research. We have a 50-year history of integrating research into the policy development process, and we work hard to ensure that our decisions are evidence based. In fact, in a recent leadership message, my colleague Peter Kahn and I outlined the ways in which PD&R is collecting and utilizing research in the development of Small Area Fair Market Rents. This research will be central to our decisions about the future expansion of SAFMRs.
On the panel, however, I was struck by the broader commitment to this process across the federal government.
In 2018, Congress passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), which was bipartisan legislation designed to create a common framework for how federal agencies use data, collect evidence, and make policy decisions. The act requires each federal agency, including HUD, to identify three senior officials to facilitate this process: an Evaluation Officer, a Statistical Officer, and a Chief Data Officer. Within HUD, these positions are based within PD&R.
From there, each agency is responsible for building a Learning Agenda. HUD’s Learning Agenda, which PD&R also manages, reflects our ongoing pipeline of research, laying out our priorities and plans for evidence-based policy.
The Office of Management and Budget launched a new website, Evaluation.gov, that facilitates access for all federal agencies to these evidence-based approaches.
One of the ways in which HUD has implemented the Evidence Act is to develop an Evaluation Policy Statement that centers around five principles outlined in the legislation: relevance, rigor, independence, transparency, and ethics. These principles guide our iterative efforts to improve public policy through continuous evaluation, monitoring, and research. They reflect our broader belief that the evidence we collect should shape policy choices. The principles outlined in the Evidence Act help cultivate a culture of evidence-based policymaking throughout the federal government.
At HUD, we collect data and build evidence in numerous ways. Contracted research helps build long-term, systematic evaluations of our programs. Recent analyses of the Community Choice Demonstration, the Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing demonstration, and the Family Self-Sufficiency programs are three important examples of HUD’s efforts to collect evidence, in collaboration with research partners, to inform public policy. Our data licensees are also conducting independent research, typically on topics related to contemporary policy discussions. We provide licenses to researchers who are committed to applying rigorous methodological techniques to our administrative data.
We draw on the expertise of our external partners in other ways, too. We regularly hear from outside stakeholders, including those participating in our monthly Quarterly Update events, to learn about policy implementation and the effects of our programs on the communities we serve. We are increasing our efforts to center residents’ lived experiences when evaluating program impacts. Each edition of our Evidence Matters publication does a deep dive into the existing research on a specific policy topic, such as Housing First programs and youth homelessness.
Through these actions, HUD is taking important steps to ensure that our policymaking builds on the most reliable, up-to-date evidence available.