The NCSL Blog


By Kristine Goodwin

Phoenix—NCSL took important steps toward developing a new center for evidence-informed policymaking last week at the NCSL Capitol Forum in Phoenix by convening a new evidence-informed policymaking work group of legislators, legislative staff and executive officials to advise on the center’s launch which is planned for next summer.

person looking for evidence with magnifying glassKeys to Success in Leading States: Collaboration, Champions and Access to High-Quality Data

The bipartisan group members shared what has worked in their states to successfully implement an evidence-informed approach—and identified which factors have paved the way for policymakers to use high-quality research to inform their decisions. For starters, clearly defining terms such as “evidence-based” or “research-based” can ensure that everyone is speaking the same language.

Work group members also emphasized legislative and executive branch collaboration as critical for fostering an evidence-informed culture over time.

“One of the most helpful developments in our state has been executive branch leadership and bipartisan support from the legislature,” said work group member Jenni Owen, director of strategic partnerships for the North Carolina governor’s office. Without it, evidence-based reforms may stumble if they’re seen as a mandate from the legislature, governor or agency head.

Dedicated legislative or executive “champions” help raise awareness about the importance of using high-quality data and research to drive decisions—but it is important to have a long-term plan for sustaining reforms over time beyond an individual or small group of supporters. Evidence-based, nonpartisan trainings about what evidence is, where to find it, what questions to ask, and how to use it in the budgeting and policymaking process can help to build a deeper bench of support for an evidence-informed approach.

Access to high-quality and reliable data is also crucial. “Having an existing, robust data system has enabled fast, easy access to information and reporting,” said work group member and director of the Iowa Department of Corrections Beth Skinner. “It’s difficult to be data-driven with antiquated systems.”

What’s Next for the Evidence-Informed Work Group and NCSL?

NCSL will continue to capture work group insights about the principles of evidence-informed policymaking and publish those findings in a report this summer.

Like a similar report that NCSL’s criminal justice program produced last year—also with the help of a bipartisan work group—it won’t tell states what to do, but will offer hallmarks or high-level principles that can help move states towards a more evidence-informed approach.

Beyond the upcoming report, NCSL will work closely with the group, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and their Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, to plan its new center for evidence-informed policymaking—launching in the summer of 2020. NCSL’s new informational and training hub will provide resources and technical assistance to help policymakers make wise investments.

Kristine Goodwin is a program director in NCSL’s Employment, Labor & Retirement Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.