Progress on the White House Year of Evidence for Action
Christina Ciocca Eller, Assistant Director for Evidence and Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Mariam Gulaid, Policy Advisor, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Diana Epstein, Evidence Team Lead, Office of Management and Budget
During his first week in office, President Biden signed the Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-based Policymaking, directing every part of his Administration to take bold and necessary steps to restore trust in government and in science. Driving this landmark directive was a central principle: in order to strengthen democracy and advance equity, the U.S. government must make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are making good on the President’s vision by leading the Year of Evidence for Action. Launched in April 2022, the Year of Evidence for Action has accelerated efforts to make evidence, data, and science central at the highest levels of Federal decision making and pioneering new initiatives to drive evidence-based outcomes for the American people.
Taking Bold Action on Three Urgent Goals
The Year of Evidence for Action launched with three priorities:
- Share leading practices from Federal agencies to generate and use research-backed knowledge to advance better, more equitable outcomes for all of America;
- Strengthen existing—and develop new—strategies and structures to promote consistent evidence-based decision making inside the Federal Government; and
- Increase connection and collaboration among researchers, knowledge producers, and decision makers inside and outside of the Federal Government.
Harnessing the power of researchers, non-profit leaders, and policymakers, and community members from inside and outside government, the Biden-Harris Administration has driven critical progress on these three goals and built capacity for evidence-based decision making inside the Federal Government and across the evidence ecosystem. Today, the Administration is building and shaping transformative policy by learning from what is working well, building capacity where there is room for growth, and harnessing collaborations to accelerate the pace, scale, and scope of evidence-informed policy and practice.
New Initiatives: Sharing Leading Practices
The Evidence Forums
In April 2022, the Administration launched The Evidence Forums, a first-of-its-kind series co-hosted with non-profits and academic organizations across the nation. The series is designed to produce concrete strategies for mobilizing research-based evidence to make life healthier, safer, more equitable, and more prosperous for the American public.
Spanning cross-cutting topics such as leading practices in community-engaged evidence building, as well as specific policy areas like improving air quality and advancing equity in higher education, each Evidence Forum has been built to elevate leading practices in evidence-informed policy, lay the foundation for new, innovative thinking around evidence and evaluation inside the Federal Government, and generate rich dialogue and exchange among researchers and policymakers inside and outside of the Federal Government.
Since the initiative’s launch, OSTP and OMB have co-hosted 11 Evidence Forums, building to a culminating event planned for early 2023. In addition to covering a broad range of issues, the Forums have put forward promising areas where Federal agencies are serving as leaders in generating and using research-backed knowledge, allowing other agencies to adopt and adapt these practices. Important examples include:
- The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families has developed and is deploying “active engagement” as a central approach to evidence building and evaluation. Active engagement is “the intentional involvement of groups and individuals who are invested in the findings and outcomes of research and evaluation in all phases of the inquiry process.” This type of engagement can improve the rigor of research and evaluation, facilitate the uptake of findings, and increase our capacity to promote equity. Read OPRE’s report to learn more.
- The Department of Labor has spearheaded a Summer Data Challenge on Equity and Underserved Communities during which scholars pursued 6-month research sprints to analyze how Federal labor policies, protections and programs reach traditionally communities that have been historically underserved due to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, income, geography, immigrant status, and veteran status and disability status. This form of quick-turn evidence building, in partnership with the research community outside of the Federal Government, can amplify Federal agencies’ ability to efficiently address pressing evidence needs and support evidence-informed decision making within the agency.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Development Innovation Ventures has created and rigorously evaluated its funding model for evidence-based open innovation, which offers flexible grants to test new ideas, build evidence of what works, and scale breakthrough solutions that address some of the world’s toughest development challenges. To ensure that this learning is captured and deployed in policymaking decisions, DIV regularly engages Agency partners during its award selection process and shares results with technical program officers in Washington and USAID Missions across the globe. Additionally, all grantees are required to submit evaluations and anonymized data to USAID’s public platforms (here and here). These approaches advance efforts to translate evidence-backed insights into decision making, promoting more effective, equitable outcomes.
Each Evidence Forum has produced a readout report summarizing the event and its core takeaways, which can be found on the Resources page of Evaluation.gov. These workshops will culminate in a public report capturing individual event participants’ recommendations and an actionable roadmap to advance substantive next steps across government to strengthen evidence-informed decision making beyond the Year of Evidence for Action.
New Initiatives: Strengthening and Building New Structures
Analytics for Equity Initiative
The Analytics for Equity Initiative serves as a cutting-edge collaboration vehicle, pairing interested researchers directly with Federal agencies seeking to answer research questions captured in their Learning Agendas. The resources provided allow researchers to produce rigorous empirical evidence and research across five research themes in partnership with Federal agencies:
- Equity of access to STEM research and education opportunities (agency partner: National Science Foundation);
- Environmental stressors and equity (agency partner: Environmental Protection Agency);
- Equity in service delivery and supports including childcare, food security, or economic supports (agency partner: the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation);
- Health equity in the wake of climate change (agency partner: the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control); and
- Equity considerations for workplace safety and workers (agency partner: Department of Labor).
Building on the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and driving outcomes aligned with President Biden’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, the Analytics for Equity initiative is advancing research in areas with great public benefit while ensuring privacy is protected and data is secure.
The program is led by the National Science Foundation, in partnership with OSTP, OMB, and other federal agencies, and helps agencies drive critical social, economic, and behavioral sciences research that leverages federal data assets. Read about this effort at the Analytics for Equity website.
The Social and Behavioral Sciences Subcommittee of OSTP’s National Science and Technology Council
In April 2022, OSTP led the rechartering of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Subcommittee (SBS) of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. With renewed urgency and a mandate to assess, report on, and extend the use of social and behavioral sciences insights in decision making across the Federal Government, this group coordinates policy action to address pressing social issues and Biden-Harris Administration priorities. The SBS has established interagency working groups (IWGs) around five policy action areas reflecting Administration priorities:
- Accessibility of Digital Infrastructure and Services;
- Communicating Hazard Information and Other Types of Uncertainty;
- Decarbonization and Justice;
- Good Jobs; and
- Enhancing Post-Incarceration Re-entry.
Each working group is engaging a series of cross-cutting questions captured in a public policy development document. These questions serve as prompts to identify unique contributions of social and behavioral science evidence, and opportunities for strengthening, translating, and using such evidence, within a specific policy action area. We welcome thoughts and feedback on this work at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Initiatives: Increasing Connection and Collaboration
The Evaluation.gov Learning Agenda Question Dashboard
Online dashboards are a nimble and transparent tool for organizing and communicating information. To support new collaborations in the Year of Evidence for Action, the OMB Evidence Team has rolled out a new dashboard to help interested researchers, community organizations, state, local, Tribal and territorial governments, philanthropy, policymakers, and the general public learn more about the research questions that each federal agency is prioritizing to align with their Strategic Plans.
This Learning Agenda Questions Dashboard compiles all of these questions in a one-stop-shop so that you can easily explore the areas where evidence is most needed. It also includes cross-agency questions from the President’s Management Agenda Learning Agenda. The dashboard offers a dynamic, interactive way to sort and filter the questions by topic to identify shared areas of inquiry across agencies. The tool also allows you to select questions that are of particular interest, save them to a custom list, and download them. Our hope is that this tool will provide a helpful way to allow those both outside and inside the Federal Government to engage with our evidence-building efforts.
2022: A Year of Results and Momentum Toward New Achievements
The Year of Evidence for Action has focused the Federal Government’s efforts to produce innovative research which advances policymaking—and it has injected new momentum in the movement to ensure the American people are benefiting from evidence-based policymaking.
Each initiative has served to build out and strengthen the infrastructure required to make evidence-based approaches not only the policy, but also the practice, of the United States government. There is more work to be done together: Federal agencies can benefit from the insights, knowledge, and collaboration of researchers, community organizations, and state, local, Tribal and territorial leaders to bolster our efforts. We invite you to send your leading examples of evidence generation and use to email@example.com, check the OSTP website, and subscribe to the newsletter offered at evaluation.gov for updates.