With just one meeting under its belt, it is too early to know for sure, but the inaugural meeting on July 22 provided reason to worry.
Presentations by executive branch officials, including the Census Bureau (which is staffing the commission), focused almost entirely on improving the quality and usefulness of federal statistics. This focus was also reflected in the meeting’s attendees, most of whom represented various federal statistical agencies, with few (if any) representatives of the federal evaluation community.
Even the one presentation devoted to evaluation — by Raj Chetty of Stanford University — seemed to downplay the usefulness of randomized controlled trials, a gold standard evaluation methodology that was cited as something to support in the authorizing legislation. More broadly, the needs of local practitioners and evaluators, who are commonly on the front lines of evidence-based work, were almost entirely absent from a meeting that lasted over three hours.
Data Data Everywhere
It was a curious start for a commission that drew strong bipartisan support in Congress and from the Obama administration as a way to further the evidence-based policymaking agenda. The commission is directed by law to issue a report within 15 months of its appointment which, according to an estimate by the chair, Katharine Abraham, will be September 6, 2017.