Evidence Use in Congress
Evidence refers to systematically collected data that have been analyzed with rigorous research methods to provide insights about how policies and programs operate. Evidence-based policymaking is the process through which evidence is applied to inform decisions about government policies and programs.
Challenges for Evidence-Based Policymaking
Volume 1 provides an overview of the processes and mechanisms involved in congressional decision-making and outlines challenges faced by Congress in routinely using evidence in legislative actions.
The volume frames three key barriers to the routine use of evidence in Congress:
- Perception – Perception barriers occur when evidence exists on a policy, but policymakers perceive, rightly or wrongly, that the evidence is not useful, not credible, or not relevant to the decision at hand.
- Institutional – Institutional barriers exist when the structure of Congress, including its decision-making process and staffing structure, impede the ability of policymakers to obtain evidence or cause evidence to compete with other priorities when making a decision.
- Systemic – Systemic barriers describe the norms, processes, and day-to-day procedures of Congress that can affect whether relevant evidence is available and usable for policymakers when they need it. It also describes how those factors affect their incentives to use that evidence.
Options for Charting a New Direction
Volume 2 presents 19 options that aim to align the use of evidence in Congress with its institutions, practices, and norms. The options could help encourage more use of relevant, timely, and credible evidence about federal policies and programs in congressional policy debates.
The options are organized into three broad categories:
- Congressional capacity enhancements focus on ways to enable and target resources for gathering and interpreting evidence.
- Institutional modifications offer ideas for adapting Congress’ institutional structure to make the use of evidence in Congress and executive agencies more transparent.
- Congressional process changes present options for how Congress could modify its processes to better enable members and staff to make evidence use a priority in routine operations.
The options presented in this report are not recommendations, but rather are intended to start a conversation about how Congress can organize itself to access and use evidence to improve its decision-making processes, and ensure that federal programs function as effectively and efficiently as possible. Members of Congress, their staff, and the American public must determine an appropriate strategy for enabling a culture of evidence and discouraging the dissemination of false or misleading information about government policies.