Using implementation science to make sure evidence-based policy is sized to fit target populations

Publication Date:

February 20, 2020

I recently had the opportunity to talk with the wonderfully wonky people behind Freakonomics about a topic I’ve worked on for over a decade: evidence-based policy and implementation science. Evidence-based policy is informed by the idea that government has an interest in making sure that the programs we (taxpayers) fund are effective. And implementation science is the study of what factors make it possible to scale up those research-tested programs to serve larger populations in different communities.

For example, when I worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), one of my first evidence-based policy projects involved examining whether three curricula shown to be effective in small studies could be scaled up for use in Head Start programs serving over 1 million children in the United States. Implementation science was critical because it guided the questions we needed to ask (and be able to answer) to effectively scale up these programs: How do you train hundreds of teachers on the curriculum so they can implement it with quality? How do you make sure the coaches you’re hiring to support those teachers have the professional skills and qualifications they need? Would the curriculum (which had been tested with 4-year-olds) need modification to be effective with 3-year-olds?

Since my time at HHS, leaders from across the political spectrum have continued to support scaling up evidence-supported interventions. Check out the Freakonomics episode to learn more about this fascinating topic that garners bipartisan support, along with further insights on how it can improve lives across the country.