Over the past 50 years, researchers have made great strides in analyzing public policy. With better data and improved research methods, we know more than ever about the impacts of government spending.
But despite these advances, it remains surprisingly challenging to answer basic questions about which policies have been most effective.
The difficulty arises because methods for evaluating policy effectiveness are not standardized. This makes it challenging, if not impossible, to compare and contrast across different policies.
Within the social sciences, methods of analysis vary widely from topic to topic.
College scholarships are most often judged based on their cost per enrolled student, whereas pre-school spending is analyzed using cost-benefit analysis. Tax policy changes are often evaluated using technical metrics such as the marginal excess burden.
These varying approaches make it difficult to conduct apples-to-apples comparisons across policies. Decision-makers are unable to fully utilize the powerful research currently available to inform policymaking and public investments.
Policy Impacts seeks to promote a unified approach for policy evaluation. We seek to promote the Marginal Value of Public Funds, a standardized metric for policy evaluation. We have created the Policy Impacts library, a collaborative effort to track the returns to a wide range of government policies.
Nathaniel Hendren is a Professor of Economics at Harvard University and Co-Director of Policy Impacts.
Ben Sprung-Keyser is a Ph.D. student in Economics at Harvard University and Co-Director of Policy Impacts.
David A. Williams serves as the Director of Policy Outreach at Policy Impacts and as Director of Policy Outreach at Opportunity Insights.
Ellen Stuart is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Economics Department at Harvard University and at Policy Impacts.