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Evidence is Not a Dirty Word

This week, GovEx released its Roadmap for Policy Change, which was developed in concert with city practitioners, JHU faculty, and other partners in evidence-based policymaking. The Roadmap includes guidance, tools, and examples to empower cities to consider a broad range of evidence in their decision making, and frame problems in a way that creates a demand for evidence from the scientific community.

Reports in December 2017 that employees at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were forbidden from using seven words, including the term “evidence-based,” hearkened back to George Carlin’s 1972 monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. It was later revealed that the Trump administration directive was intended to prevent certain programs from being cut. However, demonstrations from groups like Physicians for Policy Action on the importance of evidence and science in policy overshadowed the denial by CDC that the words were banned. The swift and strong response to the perceived ban of the term “evidence-based” illustrates the support of the scientific community and advocacy groups for using evidence and science in policy making.

As the federal government signals disbelief in using evidence to make decisions, cities are increasingly on the front lines of addressing large scale problems with global implications such as climate change, food insecurity or the spike in housing costs. Solving seemingly intractable problems like these requires thinking differently from the way we usually work. To this end, the Roadmap for Policy Change is intended as a tool to support city leaders and staff when they are thinking about when and how to incorporate a broad range of evidence in their policy making.

Traditionally, we may not think of an idea that originates from residents as “evidence,” but in fact, public input can be helpful to answer questions about local context that are not addressed by other methods. For instance, a city staff member who is tasked with thinking of ways to meet a goal to increase access to healthy food could search databases for literature on policies that were proven to work based on experimental design. But there is also value in  holding a public comment period in a community that has been identified as a food desert to understand whether certain interventions might work in a different community, how people might feel about receiving and delivering the interventions, and whether the intervention is inclusive of all groups. The Roadmap offers a framework to consider a blend of traditional evidence along with public comment and practices from other cities in order to answer questions about how policy change might work in a new setting.

We hope that the Roadmap will be will be helpful as cities continue to use  research, and test bold new ideas to solve problems that the federal government cannot or will not address. Are you ready to explore the Roadmap?


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