What can we learn from current or previous efforts to link evidence-based outcomes to policy or program development (in the housing sector or elsewhere)?
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Should evidence-based outcomes be available and used to shape policy or program development? Yes, of course. In the last several decades, more and better quality data and analysis has allowed us to understand the nature of the elderly, poverty, and discrimination as well as workplace and environmental health and safety concerns and contributed to the creation of important federal regulatory and social safety net programs. Many federal agencies have policy offices, including HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, which specifically focus on encouraging and identifying new cutting edge research and policy ideas both at the federal and local levels.
Yet, more often than not, the government also has acted in response to a tragedy or crisis, without the benefit of careful consideration of research and analysis. As a consequence, new policies and programs are crafted under pressure (real or political) to act and subject to the influence of third parties with strong special interests to protect. The more recent financial crisis and the resulting financial reform legislation are perfect examples action that was taken with many uncertainties and with much of the evaluation of the policy, regulatory and program choices needing to occur as provisions are implemented.
But is such evaluation likely to be done or done well? While the federal government does a better job at funding and supporting cutting edge policy research and planning, it much less enthusiastic and does a much poorer job evaluating the effectiveness of federal policies and programs once they are in place. During the past twenty years and three administrations, there have been initiatives to improve federal program performance and results. Numerous laws, regulations, and reporting requirements (financial reports, strategic plans, performance plans, and government data websites) with their related government man hours and taxpayer costs have been dedicated to efforts to make government accountable for results by connecting funding decisions to performance data. Where do most agencies fall short? The development and use of outcome based measures.
While the development of outcome based measures of performance can be challenging and collecting the data takes time, the benefits of such information can be invaluable to shaping future policies and programs. But after more than twenty years, there is still a long way to go. To improve the use of outcomes focused research and analysis in the development of federal policies and programs, including housing, Congress and federal agencies should consider the following:
- Value outcome based measures. If Congress does not value such research, agencies are not likely to make it a priority or do it well and the development and reporting of such information becomes nothing more than an expensive academic exercise. Congress needs to do much better job using outcome focused data and analysis to shape policies and programs.
- Coordinate the development and use of outcome based measures. Agencies should do a better job developing outcome based measures. Agency policy offices and program offices need to work better together to coordinate the application of evidence based outcomes research to the development, use and reporting of specific policy and program outcome data.
- Improve the accessibility of outcome based measures. Agencies must do a much better job making all program performance data, including outcome based, easily accessible and understandable to stakeholders and the public if they are to truly achieve the goal of enhanced accountability and transparency.
In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you have been. The development of future housing policies and programs can only benefit if evidence-based outcomes are used to evaluate the performance of existing policies and programs.
Angela Antonelli is a former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
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