Reality seems unable to keep pace with rhetoric for the nonprofits whose job it is to develop and implement evidence-based programs.
This isn’t because they don’t want to build evidence or to improve their programming with data; on the contrary, many are hungry to do exactly these things, but the current model doesn’t make it easy to do so.
There are too many barriers to developing the kind of evidence funders and policymakers need.
- Third-party randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are the gold standard for evidence, but they can be slow, expensive, and narrowly focused.
- The pressure to publish means that RCTs are often driven by research questions other than the ones to which nonprofits need answers.
- At the same time, the field’s emphasis on research evidence often comes at the expense of nonprofits’ practical considerations.
The end result is that there are too few evidence-based programs, and many of those that do exist are too expensive, too impractical, or too complicated to scale.
If we want evidence-based programming to thrive, we need to develop multiple paths to RCTs and other rigorous methods and to explore additional ways for nonprofits to build evidence while maintaining the uncompromising standards of the current model.