For as long as social scientists like me have been collecting data and generating insights, we have worried that all too often evidence doesn’t lead to impact. The problem often isn’t a lack of information. Many of today’s most pressing challenges have already been the subject of rigorous study. Evidence exists right now on how to make progress in those areas. Yet it’s still all too rare to find examples of research and data driving programs, policies, and practices to be more effective.
That’s something we at Mathematica are committed to changing.
Over the past year, we have developed a vision for ourselves and the world in which we want to live in 2035. A central component of that vision is proactively shaping the conversation around evidence to ensure that decision makers have the best information available when confronting urgent health and social challenges. Those of us dedicated to an evidence-driven world recognize that we need to engage more with the larger ecosystem that ultimately affects people’s health and well-being. We have to meet people where they are, in the mediums they prefer, using the language they understand, and at the moment when it’s most useful to them. Our 2035 vision isn’t only for Mathematica. We consider it a roadmap for anyone who believes that data should guide decisions that impact well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the important role that timely and reliable information can play in a crisis. It’s been inspiring to watch the public, private, and nonprofit sectors band together to creatively answer urgent questions about safely reopening schools, protecting the health of nursing home residents, and establishing early warning systems to detect new infections before the virus can spread widely. The innovative, science-informed solutions that have arisen during the pandemic are exactly why we need to advocate for the use of evidence in making critical decisions that can improve public well-being.
We’ve always known that simply generating evidence wasn’t sufficient to enact change in the policies and programs we studied, but advocating for evidence today means something different than it used to. It doesn’t just mean briefing policymakers and their staff, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and getting a mention in the paper of record. It also means engaging a growing evidence community on social media. It means using podcasts, videos, and other new formats to amplify evidence. It means doing everything we can, now and in the future, to make sure that evidence is timely, relevant, and accessible.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has also given us a glimpse of what that future could look like. In the past year, we’ve begun to see a new phase in the democratization of evidence. Data that might once have lived in static tables and charts are instead presented to the public in interactive dashboards that can be continually updated. For example, we have partnered with organizations like the National Academy of State Health Policy, the Public Health Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation to build dynamic online resources related to state contact tracing and rapid COVID-19 antigen testing in schools. These types of resources, which integrate datasets in user-friendly formats, were designed for a broad audience, not just a single client. Our intent is that a range of stakeholders, some of whom we could not have anticipated in the design process, will use these resources to answer the questions most pertinent to their circumstances.
In an earlier blog, I talked about our ambition that by 2035, Mathematica is shaping an equitable and just world where evidence drives decisions to achieve global impact. For evidence to drive more decisions on a global scale, everyone is going to need better data and everyone will have to commit to using those data more when making decisions. That’s why I was thrilled last month to have the opportunity to provide input to the Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building as it develops recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on how to promote the use of federal data for evidence building. I’m also heartened by President Biden’s recent memorandum Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking and it’s great to see OMB continuing to issue guidance for federal agencies to implement the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018.
I take these as promising signs for the future of evidence-based decision making, a future Mathematica is ready to help shape.