Implement public policies backed by evidence (The Hill)

By Michael A. Nutter

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee Tuesday will explore a critical – yet often ignored – topic: the need for evidence-based programs to enhance social services.

Sound boring? Too esoteric? Let me explain why evidence-based policy represents the future of policy making.

For too long, government has been investing in programs that could be working or feel like they are working, without any rigorous evidence to prove they are working. As a result, we continue to see poor outcomes: stubbornly high poverty rates and rising income inequality, to name a few.

With evidence-based policy, we can raise the bar for government effectiveness and efficiency.  Taxpayer resources will be invested wisely in the nation’s wellbeing. And residents will no longer waste time on programs that are not working. Instead, more often, they will receive services that we know work to help them get back on their feet.

One important way to encourage more evidence-based policy is to incentivize state and local governments to pay for services that produce measurable positive social outcomes. Senate Bill S1089 – the Social Impact Partnership Act – does just that. The bipartisan bill cosponsored by U.S. Senators Hatch (R-UT), Bennet (D-CO), Ayotte (R-NH) and Booker (D-NJ), provides federal funding that state and local governments can leverage to implement evidence-based programs. The federal legislation would establish desired outcomes to our nation’s biggest social problems that, if achieved, would improve lives and save taxpayer dollars. 

During my tenure as mayor of Philadelphia, our city government became increasingly adept at using data and evidence as one of the primary factors in making day-to-day decisions. For example, we conducted a pilot program of police officer foot patrols, which was evaluated by Temple University.  When that pilot assessment demonstrated a 23% decline in violent crime, we chose to implement the foot patrol policy across the city.

If new federal funds were made available to leverage local dollars, Philadelphia city government – and state and local governments across America – could do even more to produce positive outcomes for our residents.

Governors and mayors across the country want to be doing more for their residents. The federal government has an opportunity here to incentivize that behavior.

Rather than lamenting a lack of progress on social outcomes, let us commit to investing in evidence-based programs.

Michael A. Nutter is the former Mayor of Philadelphia