Unleashing 'Evidence 2.0'

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Commentary | The power of data linkages in evidence-based policymaking

Evidence-based policymaking thought leaders Nick Hart and Jason Saul recently heralded a new phase in the drive for evidence-based policymaking.  “Evidence 1.0 is great: we’ve generated a wealth of better knowledge, and that is fantastic. But the real point is to make all that knowledge accessible and usable.” Evidence 2.0, they said, is all about the data. 

Actually, I think it’s all about turning data into actionable insights.

While current evidence building efforts are generating a lot of information, we may be missing genuine insights that are right under our noses. In our experience at the Coleridge Initiative, you need to connect disparate data points to derive actionable insights. It's about recognizing and tapping into the immense potential inherent in data linkages. The true essence lies not just in the data itself, but in the art of connecting, itself. Imagine having multiple pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each held by different individuals in separate rooms. 

Today, information about income, employment, health, and education are all in different places waiting to be connected. The barriers to linking them are immense. Having the data is one piece of the puzzle and without bringing these pieces together, the complete picture remains elusive. This is the current state of data in many sectors and regions. The wealth of information that could be derived from data remains concealed because they are fragmented, isolated, and often unconnected. The promise of evidence-based policymaking is stifled when data remains siloed and disconnected.

For a comprehensive understanding of societal challenges and the design of holistic solutions, cross-agency data sharing is imperative. When state and federal agencies operate in isolation, function independently, gathering and hosting data separately, we miss out on the bigger picture. This is akin to trying to understand the vastness of the universe by studying a single planet. 

The existence of data silos within government agencies is more than just an operational challenge; it has tangible adverse impacts on policymaking. By breaking down these barriers and fostering data linkages, agencies can paint a more vivid and comprehensive picture of societal challenges and devise potential solutions that are both effective and efficient.

The quality of decision-making is significantly enhanced with data linkages, as well. When data from varied sources are interconnected, policymakers are equipped with a richer tapestry of information, enabling more informed, nuanced, and effective choices.

There are a number of examples where federal, state, and local government agencies are actively building workforce capacity and improving research and policy efforts. Having a secure platform to link and work with confidential data within and across states and agencies helps facilitates data sharing and protects privacy at the same time. States like Kentucky and Ohio use such platforms and modern data analysis methods to answer real-world questions, such as monitoring education-to-workforce outcomes among neighboring states. This helps practitioners understand the impact of program benefits on the purchase of healthier food. And it can provide policymakers with insights into the factors that contribute to the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals, reducing the likelihood of recidivism.

This is only possible by fostering data linkages across borders and agencies. There is so much more that could be done with greater and greater linkage of different data sets. 

As the evidence-based policymaking journey transitions from Evidence 1.0 to Evidence 2.0, it's clear that data linkages are not just a 'nice-to-have,' but a cornerstone of this evolution. It is more than just connecting data, though. Weaving together insights from these connections in real-time would allow for more dynamic decision making that can adapt to changing ground realities. As we stand on the cusp of this new era, let's commit to unleashing the full power of data, ensuring that our policies are not just informed but transformative.