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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There are a myriad of issues, both value-driven and details-driven, to address with regard to program evaluation design. HUD has a reputation of being one of the least prone to link solid evaluation to its policy development and provide the necessary funds or oversight to its programs’ evaluation. It has improved considerably in the last few years and waxes and wanes not by political party, but by the leadership of the agency.
There are always values and assumptions involved, but we should avoid the extremes. The science should be continually challenged as well, both within its own theoretical constructs of replicability and transparency. Evidence-based science was used along with deductive reasoning by both political parties. In the end, it took ‘moderates’ from both parties to make some giant leaps forward after incremental gains made in the past hundreds of years.
Today, many articles and persons in the political sphere feel there is more polarization than ever. Some say that is good and that it is an epithet thrown out by the other side to defend its own refusal to ‘face facts’, be they the federal deficit or the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security. In the federal system, both parties and the courts have been guilty of bypassing the data that is inconvenient to them or even manipulating the data because of differing philosophical assumptions. The Clinton welfare reform, which impacted on the public housing population, challenged the ideology of the ‘liberal’ with regard to the protection of ‘welfare rights’. Framing the argument for or against is frequently the key to the result. What one sees as ‘progress’ the other side sees as failure to understand the human condition. And finally, even if there is a belief in evidence-based research, there are trade-offs of funding. I would recommend the BPC Housing Commission make room in its report to address a broader set of principles, including defending the National Academy of Sciences and defining the use of pilot programming to test various hypotheses, replicability and methods of dissemination; create a more workable White House Office of Urban Policy or some similar role, with coordinated government-wide research-and-demonstration budgets and transparent follow-the-dots details of who is doing what in which department with regard to that systems-wide urban R&D budget over a 5, 10, and 20-year horizon; and support legitimate and palatable ways to share information on a world-wide basis that anyone can understand or share in a customer-driven collaboration of inputs and outputs.
Kent Watkins is Chairman of the National Academy of Housing and Sustainable Development.
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