Washington, DC – Last month, former House Speaker Paul Ryan took part in a conversation moderated by Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, focused on increasing the federal government’s use of data and analytics to promote evidence-based public policies.
Video of Speaker Ryan’s conversation, which was part of the 2019 GovDATAx conference, is accessible here. Excerpts of Speaker Ryan’s remarks follow.
Linking grassroots organizations with data scientists and policymakers:
“I spent the last six years running around the country, studying poverty, and basically spending time with grassroots poverty-fighters who are doing incredible work, but they’re sort of out there on islands and out on their own. And it occurred to me that so much more can be done if the right resources can come to bear, but also rigorous data and evidence. If you can join those things, you can make a huge difference in the fight on poverty. That’s what my Foundation, which I just launched yesterday, does.”
“The American Idea Foundation is focused on connecting the dots, connecting the grassroots poverty fighters who have high charisma and high credibility. They know what they’re doing, but they don’t have resources and they don’t have the access to the rigorous data of the academics, and that can really help them build models that are scalable and replicable, and ultimately, that will help you really move the needle on poverty. So, my foundation is going to work on just connecting these dots, so we can really move the needle.”
Rethinking how the federal government measures success in fighting poverty:
“For 50-plus years, we basically have measured our success in the War on Poverty based on effort: What programs do we have? How many programs do we have? How much money? How many people are on the programs? We have not measured our success on outcomes or results, frankly. because we couldn’t measure that. Now we can. And so, we’re in the first generation and the passage of this [Evidence Based Policymaking] law is the beginning, not the end of this process. It’s just the beginning.”
“Whether it’s working on the issue of recidivism and getting people back into communities, lifelong learning in the 21st century and closing the skills gap, which is extremely important for our economy, or like I said in the beginning in the poverty and welfare space, moving people into work with evidence based data on case management. Those are the three areas where I think evidence can be extremely powerful and you can see breakout reforms in those categories.”
Expanding evidence-based approaches throughout the federal government:
“As the person who co-authored the Evidence Based Policymaking law, this is exactly what we were anticipating and hoping would happen, which is, people from the data-world would convene and work on executing this. I basically see this as a critical tool of policymaking in the 21st century.”
Evaluating the War on Poverty Leads to More Efforts for Data and Analysis:
“We were coming up on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and it occurred to me that we should just do a deep scrub of all the federal government’s activities in the War on Poverty on the 50th anniversary: Why don’t we just sort of do a check on them? Where are we? How’s it going, what’s working, what didn’t work, what should we do in the future?
“It took us a whole year in the Budget Committee and our staff basically dropped everything and focused on this and at the time, there was not even a comprehensive listing of what the government did, let alone evidence. We found a number of programs at the time: MIECH-V, that did evidence-based policy, which is very successful. There were some others like Perkins, CTE, and the First Step Act, which is brand new and is one of the last things I really worked to push through. And we basically discovered in doing this taxonomy of all federal poverty programs, what works and what doesn’t work and if there is evidence that this program was really necessary. That’s kind of how I stumbled into this.”
“In addition to my Foundation which is trying to pair grassroots poverty fighters with data, academics and finances, I’m on the board of the Laboratory for Economic Opportunity (LEO) at Notre Dame. What I found really promising is LEO for years had already been doing this work with Catholic Charities and getting data from Catholic Charities. And so, one of the best things that I think can be done is doing what we call “case management” or “wrap-around services” that move people from poverty to out of poverty. To move people out of poverty, there are a whole host of things you have to do that are customized to a person’s particular needs or a family’s particular needs. Evidence-based policy puts you on a much more reliable path to get a results-oriented approach to fighting poverty. So, the case management system where you have a navigator that works with a family or a person to get them through poverty with evidence really can highlight a way. But now, you can do this government-wide.”