NAS Webinar Puts Recent “Advancing the Power of Economic Evidence” Report in International Context

On June 16, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) hosted a webinar to discuss the findings and limitations of its report, Advancing the Power of Economic Evidence to Inform Investments in Children, Youth, and Families, which was published in May 2016. The report uses cost analysis (CA), which looks at the costs of a program within a specified time period, cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA), which determines how much of an outcome is achieved per dollar spent, and benefit-cost analysis (BCA), which determines if the value of the outcome surpass its costs, to evaluate which of the government’s many intervention programs work well as currently designed, which need tweaking or improvement, and which should be cut altogether.

During the webinar, authoring committee chair Eugene Steuerle, Urban Institute, explained how most decisions regarding investments pertaining to children face a lack of economic evidence, which should be guided by two principles: quality counts, meaning generating high-quality evidence that can be compared with other results, and context matters, producing evidence that is comprehensive and applicable to decision-makers and end-users. By focusing economic evidence to speak to these principles, policy makers can have a deeper understanding of the costs and benefits of intervention programs and can make informed decisions on the future of these programs.

The webinar was the first in a series placing the report in an international light, with Latin America being this webinar’s focus. Jere Behrman, professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, lauded the report for having real-world applications, but noted its limitations in the context of Latin America, where there is little longitudinal research conducted to evaluate the effect of government programs. Florencia Lopez Boo, senior social protection economist with the Social Protection and Health Division of the Inter-American Development Bank, echoed Behrman’s sentiments, offering several studies in Latin America where evidence was collected and costs documented, but noted that these types of studies are exceptions, not the rule.

The webinar concluded that the report was strong and supported the speakers’ consensus on the importance of randomized sampling experiments of pilot studies, longitudinal studies of children and families who receive government intervention programs, and in-depth cost analysis. While resistance might come from those who deem these kinds of studies an invasion of privacy, such studies are not unprecedented, as measured progress from the No Child Left Behind Act suggests. The webinar series will continue with a discussion on the Asian context on June 29 and on the European context on July 6.

This article was contributed by COSSA intern Lindsay Bouchard, from the College of William and Mary.

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