Looking Back, Looking Forward: Reflections on a Year of Evidence in Action

May 09, 2017

Mother's Day TeaMother’s Day is upon us once again, and as my son finishes his first year of middle school, I’m feeling nostalgic. Facebook is no help, of course, with its constant reminders of what I was doing 2, 5, even 7 years ago. In the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing a lot of my son’s face, shining in the sun of spring breaks past—and I know I’m not alone as a parent when I find myself taken aback and wondering, “Where did the time go?” There was the skinny little 5-year-old up to his knees in the chilly mountain creek; the tanned and glowing 8-year-old on the rocky beach. I get more and more wistful with each photo that Facebook throws at me, but at the same time, it sparks my curiosity about the future: Where will we be 5 years from now? Will my little boy still dress up in a tie and have Mother’s Day tea with me?

I’ve felt a similar combination of wistfulness and wonder as we approach the first anniversary of the launch of the CIRE blog, Evidence in Action. I’m proud to have created a platform where objective research and important policy issues converge in a manner that is all too rare in the Twitterverse these days. And I’ve been inspired and energized by my colleagues’ insightful thinking about timely issues that can make a difference in the lives of people here and around the world. But I can’t help but wonder, where do we go from here?

As I look back, this blog has addressed topics that are relevant to a wide variety of current policy debates—from health care to education, from international development to family stability. For example, in one of our most popular posts, senior fellow Deborah Chollet broke down the complex issue of how high-risk pools might work in an Obamacare replacement and what it would mean for folks with pre-existing conditions, healthy taxpayers, and other stakeholders. Senior fellow Brian Gill collaborated with Phil Gleason and Christina Tuttle on a four-part series discussing a research agenda on school choice and tackling some of the thorniest issues in this debate: charter schools, vouchers, and online education.

At the same time, we used the blog to advance thinking on research methods. Mathematica President and CEO Paul Decker weighed in on the flossing wars with his thoughts on matching research questions with appropriate methods. We waded into the stormy waters of p-values with senior researcher Alex Resch, who wrote about how Bayesian statistical approaches might better support school districts’ decision-making. And senior researcher John Deke showed us that sometime it’s the little things that count—or at least how to count the little things—by using cluster randomized controlled trials with fewer clusters to detect small program effects.

I like to think that by bringing objective evidence and rigorous methodological insights to bear in current policy discussions, the blog might have shed a little light on debates that lately seem to turn more on partisan heat.

Looking ahead, I hope this blog can continue to inform policy conversations, but there are a few areas where I’d like to see us improve. First, I’d like to involve more Mathematica staff in sharing their work through the blog. Mathematica is a professional home to an incredibly diverse group of people, both in terms of their personal backgrounds and their professional expertise. Like a family, we’re all different, but there’s something in our DNA that unites us: the passion and the commitment to improving public well-being. We don’t always get to share our stories in our published work, so the blog could be a great place to showcase a wider variety of voices. Second, I’d like to expand our readership—not just because we, like everyone else, love to see our work get a lot of hits—but because I want to expand the appetite for evidence-based policy. I truly believe it can contribute to public well-being. So I encourage you to share your favorite posts via social media—indeed, I’d even like to see you share the posts you disagree with! And that gets to my third hope for this blog’s future: I’d love to see more actual conversation—that is, more back and forth with our readers. To date, we’ve been pleased with our readership, but you’re an awfully quiet bunch! What do you think? Do you have questions for us? What areas would you like to see the blog address? I encourage you to engage us through the blog’s comment feature, on Twitter or through other social media, or even by sending us a good old-fashioned email. I promise we’ll be as responsive as we can, and maybe we can move the conversation forward together.

In the meantime, happy Mother’s Day. I hope you get to have tea with someone you love.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not represent those of Mathematica Policy Research.

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