As governments grapple with limited funds and competing priorities, many leaders are turning to evidence-based policymaking1 to make data-driven decisions that maximize resources for human services programs. However, those efforts can be difficult to maintain in the face of economic uncertainty and transitions in legislative and agency leadership, so jurisdictions are looking for ways to cement their work and increase the likelihood that evidence- based approaches will be sustained. One strategy they are using is evidence guidelines—budget directives that prioritize the use of research and data in funding decisions.
Evidence guidelines support informed, data-driven budgeting
Legislative sessions are often compressed into a few weeks or months, leaving little time to carefully review agency funding requests; identify the most promising strategies; and make decisions that consider policy priorities, jurisdiction needs, and rigorous research. Evidence guidelines are a tool that policymakers can use to help make consideration of data a key part of the early stages of the budget review process.
The guidelines typically require that a central entity, such as an executive or legislative budget office, vet agency appropriation requests for strong supporting research on the programs to be funded. They also generally oblige agencies to meet certain criteria—for example, selecting programs that have been rigorously evaluated, found effective, and are listed in a nationally recognized clearinghouse. Guidelines can be written flexibly to allow for innovation when necessary, such as when a policy area lacks robust research, and to exclude funding requests for which social science evidence is not applicable, like those for additional staff. This approach enables policymakers to focus on the information presented and provides a consistent measure with which to compare funding proposals.
By using evidence guidelines as a screening tool, state governments can:
- Ensure that agency funding requests meet high standards.
- Require agencies and program providers to demonstrate the value of proposed initiatives.
- Prioritize funding for programs that evidence shows are most likely to achieve positive outcomes.
- Increase transparency in the budget process by using a consistent method to assess requests.
- Encourage agencies to prioritize effective, evidence-based programs.