A Roadmap to Evidenced-Based Decision Making

In “Integrating Policy, Communication and Operation Teams,” I discussed an integrative
approach to building long-lasting relationships to create 10 outcomes for effective service delivery.

For this week’s post, I invite Edmond Farah – Economic and Policy Advisor from the Ministry of Housing in the Ontario government to provide a roadmap geared towards building an
evidence-based decision making framework.

How well does a program workWhat is the problem we are trying to solve?
What does the ideal decision look like?

The answers to these questions aren’t simple. Farah suggests a four-step process:

  1. Enter the War Room
  2. Identify and Validate the Data
  3. Use Data Visualization and Analysis
  4. Articulate the Findings

The framework’s methodology consists of four central connecting steps reflective of the
progression of critical thinking and evidence acquisition that underlies answers to policy and program questions.

Step 1: Enter the War Room

Farah suggests a War Room approach when initially outlining the goals and milestones of the project at hand. The purpose of the room is to establish a dialogue with key players to identify the problems and goals. “Through conflict and challenges comes collaboration and solutions; all you really need is a team and a whiteboard,” Farah said. This approach aims to bring
together various individuals to leverage their expertise to arrive at the best course of action. Ask your team “Why are we doing this?” and “How do we believe this will achieve our desired outcome?”

The result of Step 1 is a clear and concise explanation of the issue and having everyone on the same page moving forward.

Step 2: Identify and Validate the Data

The players from Step 1 will bring forward facts, statistical, anecdotal and analogical evidence. Farah suggests developing an enterprise reporting system to integrate the relevant data sets to gather and organize the right data.

Having reliable and credible data is fundamental to the success of any evidence-based decision making framework.

Step 3: Use Data Visualization and Analysis

Data visualization is a general term that describes any effort to help people understand the significance of data and its underlying relationships by placing it in a visual context. Patterns, trends and correlations that might go undetected in text-based format can be exposed and recognized easier with data visualization software.

Farah finds that everyone wants to interact with data independently, explore it quickly and understand it faster. Identifying trends will yield a much more powerful result. “It is important to explore trends by digging into the data to answer why things
happened rather than showing that something happened,” he said. “It will provide the team with more to work with.”

A chart or graph are simple examples of data visualizations. Farah recommends using tools such as Microsoft Excel or statistical software like R and SAS to translate the findings to infographics, Power Point slides or even GIS mapping. Such tools can make it faster and easier to dig into tons of data and get meaningful results.

Step 4: Articulate the Findings

The evidence is reported to the key players from Step 1. The emphasis here is on making sure the available evidence is used to make the best decisions. The presentation of evidence may be a tough conversation because the evidence may
generate questions you did not know to ask and may illustrate things you may have missed.

At times, many organizations fall into the trap of the Knowing Doing Gap where knowledge is not implemented. The book, KnowingDoing GapHow Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, explains why many organizations that possess plenty of knowledge fail to turn that knowledge into action, which costs organizations billions of dollars.

Step 4 is an opportunity to present the evidence and change the fear of stats. This is the part where you articulate to your team or management your findings and how it aligns with your mandate.

Why Evidence Based-Decision Making?

By leveraging the power of this approach, governments can reduce wasteful spending, expand innovative programs and strengthen the degree of accountability.

Farah’s four-step process to evidence based-decision making provides the details, tips and strategies that anyone can use to instill evidence in decision making at all levels of government.

Edmond Farah holds a Master’s degree in Economics and is currently working towards the CFA designation.

Ashley Cabral  is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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