Research, Evidence, and Decision Making: Charting PAR's Role in Evidence‐Based Management

Date01 March 2018
Published date01 March 2018
Research, Evidence, and Decision Making: Charting PAR’s Role in Evidence-Based Management 181
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 2, pp. 181–182. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12932.
E vidence -based” and “science-based” are now
forbidden terms, at least if you are drafting
the budget request for the Centers for
Disease Control. In mid-December 2017, the press
widely reported that President Donald Trump issued
a directive to the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services that its constituent agencies cease
using those terms (Cohen 2018 ). This was shocking
to those of us who believe in professional public
management and support practices, policies, and
management approaches that are evidence-informed
or evidence-based. Much like the other objective
management strategies of the past—program
evaluation, strategic planning, and performance
management—scholars believe that more
information and evidence about the effectiveness of
particular heuristics or strategies are imperative to
ensuring accountability through effectiveness and
Public policy and management have entered—
nay, are well into—the evidence age. While these
practices have been slower to take root in the United
States than in the United Kingdom, Australia, or
New Zealand, we have witnessed their increasing
importance in decision making at the federal,
state, and local levels. Indeed, informed research
and practitioner communities are critical to the
complexities of navigating the modern world of public
policy and administration (Head 2016 ). However,
these communities are not immune to the political
process. Brian Head ( 2008 ) readily acknowledged
that systematic evidence (or scientific evidence)
must be weighed alongside practical evidence and
political evidence. The effectiveness of evidence-based
decisions may also be proportional to the inherent
risk of harm to citizens posed by public programs
(Hall and Jennings 2008 ). Jennings and Hall ( 2012 )
also undertook a considerable effort to comprehend
the forces that were influencing state agency use of
evidence in decision making. These studies and others
have investigated the factors that shape evidence,
while acknowledging the potential to politicize
evidence use to garner favor with citizens and
Even as President Trump issued the aforementioned
directive, legislation had passed the U.S. House of
Representatives and was progressing through the U.S.
Senate to enhance federal agencies’ evidence-based
posture. H.R. 4174, “Foundations for Evidence-
Based Policymaking Act of 2017” would further
support the use of evidence in policy decisions. It is
currently assigned to the Committee on Homeland
Security and Government Affairs in the Senate.
Is the president’s directive at odds with legislative
and administrative preferences? Are we witnessing
an attempt to secure the separation of powers by
bolstering executive privilege?
What is perhaps most odd about the president’s
war on words is that the restriction is directed to an
agency where the work is almost completely science-
based. Jennings and Hall ( 2012 ) conceptualized four
different types of agencies based on the influence of
politics and the availability of evidence; the Centers
for Disease Control, to which the directive applies,
would be classified as an evidence-based agency
under their rubric—one with high scientific capacity
and low political conflict. The level of inherent risk
dictates that higher levels of evidence should be
required (Hall and Jennings 2008 ).
It seems that we have entered a new era—perhaps one
that none of us had considered. Hall ( 2017 ) recently
noted that evidence use is highly popular, warning
of the potential negative effects of using “evidence-
based” symbolically rather than substantively. Who
would suggest that policies based on evidence are a
bad thing? While the symbolic positive politicization
of evidence was widely anticipated, negative
politicization had hardly been considered. In the
current political arena, feathers are easily ruffled,
and much pomp and grandstanding accompanies
statements by elected officials on both sides of the
political aisle. Many have said that President Trump
Jeremy L. Hall
University of Central Florida
R. Paul Battaglio
The University of Texas at Dallas
Research, Evidence, and Decision Making:
Charting PAR s Role in Evidence-Based Management

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