Policymakers and practitioners are increasingly addressing equity by promoting the use of evidence as an important tool to strengthen opportunity and outcomes for young people. This is a powerful trend, but it needs to be a two-way street. Equity can also strengthen evidence by improving how the field generates and uses evidence.

Equity is the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair. It is distinguishable from equality which connotes the idea that supports and resources are distributed evenly, rather than calibrated to need. Equity can be both an outcome (where everyone has what they need to thrive) and a process (where those most impacted by inequity are meaningfully involved).

As evidence has a growing role in determining what programs and services are funded and how work gets done, it can promote or hinder equity. The Forum for Youth Investment is building on our evidence-based policy and practice work by applying an equity lens to the processes that underlie how evidence gets generated and used.

This includes questioning for, by, and about whom we generate evidence; what evidence is considered valid, rigorous, and important; and who has voice in the processes of generating and using evidence.

The Forum views the following key principles as vital for harnessing evidence to ensure all young people are ready for college, work and life:

Integrate multiple types of evidence into decision-making

Data, statistics, performance improvement, evaluation, and social and behavioral sciences often have their own silos in government. There is one infrastructure for statistics and a separate infrastructure for evaluation, for example. Evidence-based policymaking works best when multiple types of evidence are created, collected, and presented to policymakers as a coherent, integrated package.

Elevate evaluation

The infrastructure supporting evaluation lags behind the infrastructure for other types of evidence like statistics or data. Policymakers should work to close this gap by elevating the use and status of evaluations in government by creating or increasing the prominence of new positions to lead this work, formalizing practices in laws and statutes, and setting aside more funding for evaluations.

Use revenue-neutral approaches to scale the use of evidence

Policymakers should either: (1) use the same amount of funding on the same population and desired outcome, but the funding would be paid based on results achieved rather than services delivered. This is often referred to as a “pay for success” model, which was significantly expanded in the bipartisan 2018 budget agreement; (2) cut funding for an ineffective program and use that funding to fund another, more effective program for the same population and desired outcome; or (3) use evidence to improve a program so that better outcomes are accomplished using the same amount of funding. These approaches avoid large increases in funding that are infeasible given the current budget and ensure that decreases in funding do not tamper enthusiasm for evidence-based policy in general.

Advance evidence-based practices

Practices are a key part of evidence use as well. In addition to ‘brand-name’ proven programs, policymakers can also promote practices (generic types of interventions, and even particular elements and staff practices) to scale the use of evidence. Policymakers need to look inside the ‘black box’ of programs and find the core practices that truly make that program effective if they really want to scale what works. Focusing on practices can support local innovation, ensure flexibility, and drive improvement. Programs, in contrast, can lead to implementation challenges, a lack of local buy-in, and low sustainability.

Focus on the science of youth readiness

Too many young people move through adolescence and into adulthood without the abilities, skillsets and mindsets they need to manage life’s opportunities and challenges. The past decade has brought a growing sense of urgency and attention to the issues of readiness and equity. Readiness is the dynamic combination of being prepared for and willing to take advantage of life’s opportunities while managing its challenges. The Forum remains committed to promoting the science of youth readiness across all policy areas. For more information please look here.

Changing the odds for young people has never been more important