Evidence-based research in policy design

The use of evidence-based research methods is imperative for the future success of policy design and implementation. Although much care and effort are put into the design and implementation of various policies, far too often are they implemented because they appeal to our more altruistic side, or because they are based on archaic political framework and nepotism. This can be easily identified in the way the city of Chicago conducts business. Whether it is the Mayor trying to update and improve the way trash collection is handled in order to reduce cost and improve service, or if it is the way building permits are issued and enforced. Basing these policies on evidence-based research will greatly improve the effectiveness of these policies.

With government agencies utilizing “big data” solutions through the open data movement, policy researchers are now able to secure and develop responses to traditional policy issues using sound analytic approaches. In doing so, benchmarks and best practices can be identified across the broad spectrum of industries and the most successful solutions can be implemented in the public sector. Additionally the analytic approaches that are used to develop the policy can be further utilized in conducting program evaluation. This can ensure that when more variables and data becomes available, any changes in trends or outcomes can be monitored and the processes can be adjusted to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved and inefficient and wasteful processes can be discontinued, further improving best practices.

A final aspect to utilizing evidence-based research methods in policy design is that it can greatly lower the ancillary costs of a policy. Much like the improvements associated to old light bulbs and high-flow toilets, improving design and increasing efficiency greatly reduces waste.  This can be identified with savings in time, cost, and the return value of a policy. Additionally, by using evidence-based research, decisions makers will like be more inclined to make data driven decisions rather than basing them on opinion or speculation, all of which should be considered a big win for the public who these policies affect.

Hurdles Facing Successful Public Policy Implemenation

Policy implementation seems like a very straightforward idea when viewed from a theoretical or academic lens; design a public policy that creates more positive externalities then negative, promotes social efficiency, and yields a multitude of societal benefits. Then, in keeping with the altruistic belief in said policy, implement it. Unfortunately, policy implementation does not work like Ali Baba and the forty thieves where someone can simply proclaim “open sesame.” This has been noted and observed time and time again, a key example being the Patient Protection and Affordable Act (ACA). Although many questions have been raised in the public administration field about how to best go about the practical application of policy implementation, I believe that answering the question “what are the overarching hurdles that someone might need to account for when trying to enact new public polices?”

First, a key hurdle in policy implementation would the defining the actual goal of the stated policy. Now, this may seem intuitive; however, when it comes to the implementation side of policy, it truly depended on how the various sectors (pubic, private, or not for profit) work together enacting the codified policy. It becomes imperative that all key stakeholders understand the policy objective, the expected outcome, and the potential consequence that might occur during the process. By leaving a policy to broad, the designers run the risk of having the policy misinterpreted or enacted in a manner that was outside of the original intent of the policy, such as what was seen with ACA and Supreme Court rulings regarding the intention of the policy.

Second, I think there exists a trichotomy of influence when it comes to policy implementation. 1) those who fully support the idea and are enthusiastic about its implementation; 2) those who have not committed to the belief that the ends justify the means, or that the benefits out way the negatives; 3) and those who are adamantly against the entire implementation and policy itself. This is a trend that most if not all contentious or highly publicized policy follow. Whether it is something as far-reaching and impactful like ACA, or something localized such as taxing soda, all policies have varying voices of support, and therefore multiple opinions on who has ownership, authority, and enforcement of that policy and its implementation.

Finally, because new policies change the way society operates, modifying or trying to improve archaic policies, (such is the way for any Chicago policy) and their framework becomes a Sisyphean task. That which no matter how close someone comes to improving the current state of affairs, will end up meeting so much resistance to change that inevitable they will have to start anew. This can be noted in many policy improvements from HMO reform to Medicaid expansion; people who have benefited from the inefficiencies or who are comfortable with the status quo will like oppose and try to de-rail any implementation efforts regardless of the public benefit.

In theory, it should be a simple matter of designing a policy that meets a societal need, and provides a public benefit, however there are many external forces after the design phase of policy that manipulate even the most well intentioned policy into something unrecognizable. Good policy should require a good policy steward, someone who not only helped design it, but also understands the goals of the policy, and is able to speak and champion said policy all the way through implementation rather than the hand-off system that generally takes place. Beyond the rhetoric of politicians, policy is what ends up codified in our country of laws and defines and guides our society and we continue to face an ever fluid national and international environment.