Putting Community Back at the Heart of the Work

Following the recent banning of particular words at HHS agencies, there’s been a public outpouring of support for the use of evidence and science in public decision-making and budgeting (“evidence-based” and “science-based” were two phrases that Department of Health and Human Services agencies were purportedly told to recently avoid). We’re grateful to our colleagues in the field who have publicly and proudly championed this important narrative.

But let’s not lose sight of the full magnitude of the work and the reason why a ban of this nature is an affront on our community- and democratically-held values. The whole point of collecting and using evidence in a human services context is to ensure that those programs are actually benefiting the communities that they are meant to serve.

This is not about collecting evidence for the sake of science. This is about collecting evidence for the sake of people and their livelihoods. There is a lot more at stake here.

We don’t see it as a coincidence that the words “vulnerable” and “diversity” were singled out as a part of this federal directive. Vulnerable and diverse populations have historically been given short shrift by many political and public decisionmakers.

The bipartisan support surrounding the evidence-based policy agendas of both the G.W. Bush and Obama Administrations was in large part about building a foundation of understanding regarding what programs and services work best for traditionally under served communities. And then, to use this knowledge to redirect our attention, energy, and limited taxpayer dollars to deliver the highest quality standards of programming possible for those communities in need. Over years past, it has been deeply rewarding to see folks from both sides of the aisle and all sectors and industries unite around this critical work.

However, actions like those taken several days ago during the Trump Administration call into question whether these coveted principles and goals will continue to be publicly held going forward. At best, this ban on words was a misguided and disheartening attempt to shape the discourse around 2019 budget documents. At worst, this was a deliberate attempt to erode the hard-won gains in inclusivity and the promotion of programs that work for vulnerable populations.

As we start this holiday season and embark on the new year, it seems only fitting that we turn our attention to what matters most and put community back at the heart of the work. As a society, we simply cannot afford otherwise. Here’s to making 2018 better than the last.

Dan Cardinali, Advisory Board Chair, and Kelly Fitzsimmons, Founder of Project Evident. Project Evident is a shared services platform that promotes nonprofit-led evidence building. www.projectevident.org

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