In late June, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) kicked-off The Evidence Forums. A centerpiece of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Year of Evidence for Action, the event was the first in a series co-hosted with non-profit and academic organizations to co-develop concrete strategies for mobilizing research-based evidence that can make life healthier, safer, more equitable, and more prosperous for the American public.
The inaugural forum was co-hosted with Pew Charitable Trusts’ Evidence Project, which works with philanthropy, researchers, policymakers, and others to transform how research and evidence are generated, valued, and used.
Building on the broad definitions of evidence described in OMB’s guidance on evidence-based policymaking, the event focused on inclusive stakeholder engagement. Speakers discussed how research-practice-policy partnerships and other similar approaches can help to generate actionable evidence, improve equity, and increase the effectiveness of programs and policy.
The Forum was attended by over 275 people, including leaders in government, academia, philanthropy, and the non-profit sector, as well as experts in developing, translating, and using research evidence to inform policy and practice.
More information is available at The Evidence Forums page, including details about upcoming Forums and other activities that are part of the Year of Evidence for Action.
Highlighting Research-Informed Policy and Inclusive Engagement
Dr. Alondra Nelson, Deputy Assistant to the President and head of OSTP, provided keynote remarks, situating The Evidence Forums within the Administration’s commitment to evidence-based policy-making, scientific integrity and advancing equity. Dr. Nelson’s remarks highlighted the value of including diverse voices in the processes of generating and using research-backed knowledge to address pressing social challenges.
“To tackle the challenges we face as a nation, we need everyone,” Dr. Nelson stated. “We need to invite contributions from individuals and communities who’ve been excluded from Federal decision-making, and include them in America’s evidence ecosystem. We need students and skilled technical workers, scientists, engineers, and industry innovators, equity advocates, creatives, education leaders and researchers, and people who value and use science and technology in their everyday lives. We need researchers from public universities, private colleges, minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and we need to support community-centered and community-led research and innovation.”
Actualizing ‘A Pivotal Moment’
In opening comments, Dr. Molly Irwin, Vice President for Research and Science at Pew Charitable Trusts, emphasized that we are in “a pivotal moment” for evidence use in policy and practice, one that elevates equity as a core concern: “There is heightened interest in building and using evidence to improve policy and practice…. [T]here is also a growing focus and understanding about the need to examine disparities in access and outcomes and make improvements to equity in our program and policies. We all recognize the need for rigorous, effective, and nimble ways of bringing together different kinds of knowledge and perspectives, both to inform our research questions and then to ensure that the evidence we are building is relevant and used.”
Dr. Angela Bednarek, Director of Pew’s Evidence Project, raised questions about how to actualize these goals and values prior to introducing the panel: “How do we make this a reality? … How can we undertake this work? And where can we find partners? What are measures to allow us to understand what success looks like?”
The four panelists, experts from the U.S. government, philanthropy, and the research community, addressed these topics over the course of a 60-minute discussion.
Collaborative, Use-Inspired Approaches within the Federal Government
Dr. Aleta Meyer, Senior Social Science Research Analyst at the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) started off the conversation by defining active engagement: “Active engagement is about intentionally engaging groups and individuals who are invested in the findings and outcomes of research and evaluation in all phases of the inquiry process. … What this means is that we are really trying to focus our products and the important [research] questions on what needs to be learned, and to drive the learning process.”
Dr. Meyer went on to provide the example of an ACF initiative, “communities of learning,” to show how ACF has pursued an active engagement approach. These communities are comprised of participants with a variety of roles, including Native and non-Native researchers, the directors of early childhood programs in Tribal communities, and Tribal childcare providers. Together, these communities of learning have developed the evidence to inform newer, more effective approaches for early childhood screening in Tribal communities.
Dr. Erwin Gianchandani, Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP), underscored the value of collaborative research approaches inspired by end users in the new NSF Directorate he leads: “With TIP, we want to think about engaging the users, the beneficiaries, the consumers of the research. … Let’s bring together that entire ecosystem and have the users and the beneficiaries really spur the research problems we are trying to pursue. That means multisector teams—academia, industry, government, civil society, communities of practice, philanthropic organizations—and having the societal, economic, and technological problems serve as the driver for research.”
He further emphasized the value of expanding diversity and broadening participation in the research community, and embedding this logic into the core of the TIP directorate, sharing, “The emphasis on diversity and equity and inclusivity and accessibility is something that we are trying to design into the programs we are supporting.”
Establishing and Sustaining Community Relationships for Engaged Research
Dr. Claire Gibbons, Senior Program Officer, Research and Evaluation, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also joined the panel, speaking about the importance of shifting incentive structures in philanthropy towards valuing genuine, sustainable relationships between researchers and communities in the work of evidence building.
Dr. Gibbons explained: “One of the questions we are asking applicants, when they submit a proposal, … is about what their relationship is to the community – how they are connected to the community [they propose to study]. We are asking ourselves different questions when reviewing proposals, really looking to letters of support to see that [researchers] did not just meet somebody from the community yesterday. We are looking for more established relationships and a legitimate partnership.”
A Global Perspective
The panel concluded with comments from Dr. John Lavis, Co-Lead of the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges. Dr. Lavis drew attention to the learning that might be gleaned in the U.S. context by attending to strategies and approaches from around the world on funding, building, and using evidence.
“We do not just need to know what data analytics, evaluation, modeling and behavior implementation research, and qualitative research tell us about the U.S.,” Lavis commented. “We need to also learn from around the world and how those findings vary by groups. Some of that evidence will be powerfully applicable in the U.S. For example, some countries have expert [grant application review] panels that put people with lived experienced at the table, or that pre-circulate summaries of the existing evidence to those panelists. [Then they] ask the panel to clarify what the evidence and those lived experiences are to help underpin the panel’s recommendations, flipping [the panel review process] on its head.”
Pursuing these kinds of approaches, that put engagement with communities outside the Federal government at the center, may help to generate powerful strategies for evidence building and use – especially with a view towards advancing equity.
Occurring throughout the Year of Action for Evidence, The Evidence Forums will advance the goals of share leading practices from Federal agencies to generate and use research-backed knowledge; strengthening and developing new strategies and structures to promote consistent evidence-based decision-making inside the Federal Government; and increasing connection and collaboration among researchers, knowledge producers, and decision makers inside and outside of the Federal Government.