Helping Public Agencies and Nonprofits Communicate for Evidence-Driven Action
Evidence is crucial to the work of government agencies and nonprofit practitioners. Sharing that information is equally essential. “Communicating Evidence” — a new brief from the Urban Institute’s Federal Evaluation Forum, with funding support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation — highlights challenges and opportunities for organizations that share evidence. It details considerations for ensuring information is timely, readily available and clear.
Public agencies and nonprofits can share evidence in many ways, among them:
- articles in professional journals;
- research summaries distributed through the media, newsletters and other means;
- broad data sets, data summaries and data visualizations; and
Respected individuals or organizations with a large following can help broadly share information as well, the brief notes.
The Casey Foundation invests in efforts to help programs build and document their evidence by developing theories of change or logic models, creating systems for continuous feedback from participants and more. “This brief is an important reminder about the need for nonprofits and public agencies to make key evidence accessible, timely and understandable,” said Ilene Berman, a senior associate with the Foundation’s Evidence-Based Practice Group. “Delivering evidence and information well is essential to generating the action necessary for young people and communities to benefit from effective programs and policies.”
Know Your Audience
The brief recommends that organizations identify their target audiences and regularly assess how they hear about, understand and absorb evidence being shared. Key target audiences, the brief notes, can include:
- policy, legislative and budget decision makers;
- government executives and administrators;
- program practitioners, managers and staff;
- those using or affected by government services;
- media, interest groups and associations; and
- researchers and academics.
Organizations must carefully consider how to best deliver evidence to these varying target audiences.
“What works well to communicate with one set of users may not work well for communicating with other important evidence users,” the brief notes. “This is true whether communicating through evidence repositories, training and technical assistance, wall posters, hand-held devices, storytelling, ‘report cards,’ visualizations or other means.”
The brief highlights, for example, a recent study that visually depicted the same patient data in three different ways. The study found that the different visualizations affected how doctors understood and recalled the information. Organizations can document how their target audiences are obtaining and using the evidence they provide through tools such as feedback questionnaires, surveys and workshops.
The second in the Urban Institute’s Basics of Evidence series, the brief includes a range of examples and resources to guide organizations looking to improve their use of evidence. It follows the release of “What Is Evidence?”, the first in the William T. Grant Foundation-supported series.