Inside Obama’s Effort to Use Science — and Find Policies That Actually Work

By Julia Belluz

A couple of years ago, former Obama and Bush officials estimated that only 1 percent of government spending is backed by any evidence at all. 1 percent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, evaluations of government-sponsored social programs have found that some three-quarters of them have no effect on the people they were designed to help.

Over the last six years, a group of evidence-based nerds in the White House have been trying to change the status quo by way of a quiet evidence-based revolution. By only funding programs — from home visits to low-income families, to pregnancy prevention and K-12 education — that have high-quality studies demonstrating they work, the White House has been trying to push government officials in a more science-minded direction.

In his new book, Show Me the Evidence, Brookings Institution fellow and policy analyst Ron Haskins documents what is probably one of President Obama’s most important and least-understood achievements.

I talked to Haskins about how the White House accomplished the feat of getting science into the policymaking process, what governments everywhere can learn from Obama, and whether the evidence-based approach will stick in Washington.

Full Interview