How Can Federal Policymakers Encourage the Use of Evidence at the Local Level?- Event Summary

The Forum for Youth Investment (Forum) recently partnered with the Urban Institute to cohost an event on July 24th about what federal policymakers can do to encourage the use of evidence at the local level. The event brought together agency career staff, nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, service providers and others to discuss the barriers to using evidence at the local level as well as some potential best practices for organizations to follow. The event was organized into two moderated panels featuring the unique perspectives of philanthropic foundations active in the evidence-based policymaking space and of local organizations involved in building and using evidence in their day to day work. The event was broadcast live so that both in-person and online audiences could participate in the discussion. The first panel of representatives from philanthropic organizations was moderated by the Forum’s Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, Thaddeus Ferber. The second panel of representatives from local organizations across the country was moderated by the Urban Institute’s Senior Fellow Lauren Eyster.

The first panel included Ilene Berman from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Vivian Tseng from the W. T. Grant Foundation, and John Scianimanico from the Arnold Foundation. The panelists started by focusing on what it takes to use evidence. Vivian mentioned the importance of trusting relationships between researchers and policymakers. John Scianimanico spoke about the need to involve government in the process of developing research questions so that the information learned by researchers was relevant to their work. Ilene Berman emphasized the need to be intentional about what any partnership between research and government organization is hoping to achieve as well as the processes that partnership will undertake to get there. Vivian then followed up by pointing out that government agencies need to create the organizational conditions that can foster evidence use such as finding staff with the right skillsets, building a culture of using evidence within an agency, and creating spaces for staff to both discuss and use evidence.

Each of the panelists also spoke about some of the initiatives their foundations are supporting. The W. T. Grant Foundation continues to support research-practice partnerships. Vivian spoke about the need for these partnerships to be long-term entities rather than project by project in order to sustain relationships. They also need to embrace mutualism and recognize the needs of all partners. The Arnold Foundation has actively supported policy labs for a number of years including labs in both Washington, DC and Houston. John spoke about how these labs help provide integrated data systems to ensure that policymakers have a 360 degree view of the populations they are serving. Finally, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has used its Evidence2Success initiative to encourage localities to involve young people in setting the priorities for preventive programming through surveys. Ilene noted that this type of evidence can help policymakers put equity at the center of their work.

The second panel consisted of Lili Elkins from Roca Inc., Matthew Billings from the Providence Children & Youth Cabinet, and Ruth Neild from the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium. The panelists spoke about some of the challenges of building and using evidence as representatives of local organizations and of intermediaries that regularly support and partner with local organizations. Lili first spoke about how researchers often do not understand the unique program model that her nonprofit uses as they are serving at-risk youth who do not reach out to other programs and services. She also noted that federal policymakers often want local groups to fit into a specific model and that researchers often focus on their own interests first. Both groups need to prioritize what the nonprofits need as they are directly connected to many of the populations policymakers care about.

Matthew Billings spoke about the importance of culturally relevant evidence and the need to engage people throughout the process. His organization frequently works to engage with communities by prioritizing the translation of research into language communities can use. He emphasized that the people who use systems are ultimately the experts on those systems. Ruth Neild agreed that relationships and trust are vital for the use of evidence. She noted that federal policymakers could convene policymakers, researchers and practitioners more often to develop these relationships and ultimately develop better tools and models. Lili also noted that federal policymakers can better support nonprofits that want to build capacity to engage in evaluation as these activities can often take time and energy away from service provisions.

A recording of the event including the welcoming remarks, both panels, and audience Q&A is available here. The link also includes the event’s agenda as well as speaker bios.