MacArthur invests in evidence-based policy

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has launched a $35-million initiative that is using research and cost-benefit analysis to strengthen the case for evidence-based policymaking.

The foundation cites as precedent the Perry Pre-school Project, a study begun in 1962 by David P. Weikart that was the first to quantify the benefits of early-childhood education, and contributed to a long period of bipartisan support for Head Start, the government early-education effort.

The MacArthur initiative is taking a three-pronged approach to promoting evidence-based policy, foundation officials say.

Grants include support for cost-benefit analyses of specific programs in a variety of policy areas, strengthening the methodology of such studies, and increasing their impact among policymakers.

The foundation has funded an assortment of institutions to conduct program analyses, including the RAND Corporation, Urban Institute, Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago and MDRC, a social policy research organization.

Policy questions undergoing analysis range from prisoner re-entry in Chicago to mandated community treatment for the mentally ill in New York and the effects of extending foster-care benefits to age 21.

The foundation says it is also supporting groups like the Coalition of Evidence-Based Policy to strengthen the link between research and policy.

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