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What it Takes to Activate Evidence-Based Decision-Making

Venn diagram representing Evidence-Based Decision Making. One circle contains the words Decision-Maker Expertise, another contains Best Available Research Evidence, and another contains Community Needs & Implementation Context.

With a clear, shared understanding of what Evidence-Based Decision-Making (EBDM) is (see previous blog post), the next step in creating an EBDM culture is for decision-makers, agency leadership, and staff to commit to routinely using the EBDM approach, consistent with each of their roles.

What is Evidence-Based Decision-Making?

EBDM is the intersection of the best available research evidence, decision-makers’ expertise, and community needs and implementation context. EBDM recognizes that research evidence is not the only contributing factor to policy and budget decisions. Other equally important contextual factors include resourcing, cultural values, community voice, and feasibility of implementation.

Consistent use requires having the resources, skills, and time needed to acquire the best evidence, make meaning of it, and apply it to the decision-making context. While these are shown in the graphic below as two distinct features of an EBDM culture—Features 2 and 3—both are needed for either to succeed.A leading-edge effort by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC) provides a good example of this in practice. CDEC received over $700 million in federal and state stimulus funds to address pandemic recovery needs and strengthen Colorado’s early childhood system. Stimulus funds have touched nearly all divisions within CDEC, but they are time-limited without renewal and without extension beyond September 2024.

This creates a “cliff effect” that must be managed. CDEC turned this challenge into an opportunity by partnering with the Colorado Lab to develop an evidence-based approach to stimulus sustainability decisions. The approach introduced the agency to the EBDM vision and resulted in a process called Evidence Portfolios.
““With CDEC, we test drove an early version of the evidence portfolio, a tool to support consistent application of EBDM during budget and policy decision-making. This was paired with a theory of change to support CDEC leadership and staff in aligning strategic planning with performance management and budgeting,” said Colorado Lab Director, Dr. Kristin Klopfenstein. “This positions CDEC to use evidence to make the case for the budget priorities they put forward to the Governor’s Office, as well as identify priorities for ongoing evidence-building.”

The Value of Evidence-Based Decision-Making

EBDM Value (tiny)

“Evidence portfolios facilitate more nuanced and holistic budget decisions. The tendency is to either ask for the exact same amount of money or more money, but without a solid understanding of why,” adds Dr. Courtney Everson, senior researcher/project director for the Colorado Lab. “The evidence portfolios provide robust data to inform which programs should be sustained or scaled up and those that don’t need as much funding anymore or can sunset. This helps state agencies maximize use of resources and make smart investments to benefit Colorado families and communities.”

We also are working to ensure that the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) and staff supporting the Joint Budget Committee of the General Assembly understand the EBDM approach that CDEC is taking. By including community needs, implementation context, and decision-maker expertise, the value of this approach far exceeds the current expectation of both bodies that departments simply present the best available research evidence.

The initial use of EBDM by CDEC advances Colorado’s 5-year vision to build a broad-based culture of EBDM. “CDEC’s early championship of evidence portfolios illustrates the value of tools that align thinking and help everyone look at recommendations with a shared evidence-based frame in mind,” says Dr. Everson. “We look forward to replicating this support tool with other interested state agencies to continue the momentum.”

In our next blog post, we’ll explore the remaining features of an EBDM culture—ensuring evidence is systemic and robust and engaging in an iterative process of using existing and generating new research evidence.