As discussed in the Pew-MacArthur First Results Initiative Report, Evidence-Based Policymaking: A Guide for Effective Government:
“Evidence-based policymaking uses the best available research and information on program results to guide decisions at all stages of the policy process and in each branch of government. It identifies what works, highlights gaps where evidence of program effectiveness is lacking, enables policymakers to use evidence in budget and policy decisions, and relies on systems to monitor implementation and measure key outcomes, using the information to continually improve program performance.”
This approach reduces wasteful spending, expands innovative programs, and strengthens accountability.
What Makes Programs Evidence-Based?
There is no standard definition of what constitutes evidence-based. The Office of Justice Programs (OJP)“considers programs and practices to be evidence-based when their effectiveness has been positively demonstrated by causal evidence, generally obtained through one or more outcome evaluations,” where “causal evidence depends on the use of scientific methods to rule out, to the extent possible, alternative explanations for the documented change.” (The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control's Continuum of Evidence Effectiveness illustrates distinctions between evidence-based and promising programs and practices).
An outcome evaluation is a formal study that helps to answer the basic question “Is this program working?” Its aim is to find evidence of changes in clients’ behavior and, if there are changes, show that they result directly from participants’ experience in the program (and not from contact with other programs, other factors, or chance). (Source: Measuring Success: A Guide to Becoming Evidence-Based). See also the NCJP section on research and evaluation.
Numerous resources are available to practitioners seeking to identify effective and evidence-based criminal or juvenile justice programs. View a list of registries of evidence-based programs. In addition, numerous resources are available to guide policymakers and practitioners through implementation of and evaluation of these policies, programs and practices. (See Additional Resources below).
The Role of SAAs and SACs
State Administering Agencies (SAAs) allocate federal funds for state and local criminal justice programs. As such, they play a critical role in facilitating the use of EBPs. In the National Criminal Justice Association webinar, Navigating Evidence Based Policies and Practices: What States Can Do To Generate the Evidence?, presenters discuss what makes program evidence-based and how states can promote the use of EBPs. See also the Justice Research and Statistics Association project: Understanding, Promoting and Sustaining the Use of Research and Evidence-Based Practices by State Administering Agencies.
Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) are also essential to sound strategic planning, policy formulation, and the implementation and replication of EBPs. At the 2013 Executive Session on Evidence-Based Policy, SAC directors discussed how they provide support to their SAAs, and the challenges and opportunities they encounter in providing data and information to support the implementation of EBPs in their respective states. View these presentations here.