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Is Your Agency Ready for New Evidence-Based Policy Tools?

The Commission on Evidence Based Policymaking, launched last year by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., recently released its recommendations. They include a call for federal departments to 1) establish chief evaluation officers to help coordinate and prioritize program evaluation activities; and 2) develop learning agendas that identify high-priority research studies that agencies would like to have done.

Both recommendations are designed to ensure departments’ evidence-building resources (whether program evaluations, basic analysis or research, or performance analyses) are used as productively as possible. The broader goal is to strengthen a culture of learning and improvement.

Will the commission’s recommendations be put into practice, either through statute or administrative action? Given the bipartisan nature of the recommendations and the high-profile backing of Ryan and Murray, it seems likely they will.   

That, then, raises another question: How can federal agencies prepare to increase their use of evidence, moving in the direction of chief evaluation officers and learning agendas? We have four suggestions for senior leaders.

1. See the commission’s recommendations as an opportunity to strengthen your organization’s focus on results

We know new congressional or White House mandates often seem onerous. However, the...

How to Beat Burnout at Work

If you want to understand just how bad burnout can get, consider the story of Melissa Sinclair, an employee at Time Out New York.

Melissa rose to internet fame in recent weeks after Time Out New York inadvertently posted an employment listing on the job-search site Indeed that detailed her current unmanageable workload. The post explains, “Currently, we have an agreed budget of $2,200 per issue for a freelance Photo Editor, 10 hours work at $22 p/h, which would normally be completely fine, however the issue is that Melissa physically cannot find good enough candidates to fill these freelance positions, and at the current rate of magazine production, she needs multiples people available to work on multiple cities, simultaneously. Because she can’t find people for these freelance positions, she’s been forced to do all of this work herself and is currently completely swamped and overwhelmed.”

Unfortunately, a lot of people reading the posting can probably relate. Fifty percent of Americans say they are constantly drained by work—a...

The To-Do List Is a Tyrant That Will Keep Your Life and Your Goals Small

There’s immense satisfaction in the act of crossing an item off a to-do list. It feels powerful, like a definitive strike against overwhelming responsibility. As Quartz At Work’s Lila McLellan has reported, simply saying the word “done” gives our neurochemistry a valuable happiness boost. As that relaxed, satisfied feeling accumulates, it builds the confidence necessary to take on increasingly challenging tasks.

But chasing that feeling of accomplishment comes with a price: A constant focus on short-term tasks hurts productivity in the long run.

Faced with a daunting number of things to accomplish, we often default to the strategy of tackling items that can be easily completed first. “I look at my email inbox and sadly, instead of turning to those things that are most important, I use the simple heuristic of, ‘Which of these can I knock off?’” said Bradley Staats, an associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. (He’s describing a painfully familiar feeling.)

In the short term, finishing relatively simpler jobs reduces workload faster. But by defaulting to jobs we’re confident we can complete, we forgo the chance to learn how to do more challenging ones effectively...

'People Who Boast About Their IQ Are Losers'

In 2004, a New York Times reporter asked Stephen Hawking what his IQ was. “I have no idea,” the theoretical physicist replied. “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”

President Donald Trump seems to think otherwise. After recent reports that Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, called him a moron, Trump told Forbes: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

As Philip Bump at The Washington Post reported, Trump has a history of boasting about his IQ, and challenging others to IQ tests. His supporters have also taken up this cause for him in the past. In December 2016, a chart made the rounds saying that Trump’s IQ was 156, putting him above most past presidents. (The median score is 100.) The fact-checking website Snopes rated this claim as false: While the chart was based on a real study, the study didn’t have real IQ scores for most presidents (it estimated their IQs based on other factors), Trump wasn’t included in the study, and most importantly,“Donald Trump’s true intelligence quotient is...

Breaking the Stranglehold of Calcified Federal Acquisition Policies

Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, thinks government ought to be able to take advantage of the robust world of online marketplaces (think Amazon or EBay). Thus, he has included in the House version of the 2018 defense authorization bill a provision authorizing just that. Since there is no similar language in the Senate bill, the provision will be decided in conference committee, although significant opposition jeopardizes its survival.

In truth, it shouldn't be a question at all. There is no reason the government cannot or should not be a part of this global shift. The only question should be how to make it work.

First, we have to answer the core question of the extent to which the government is willing to let go of longstanding acquisition policies and requirements. This is not a new question. In each stage of the decades-old movement to achieve real acquisition reform, some of the most important changes have been sub optimized by immovable orthodoxies. Think about the advent of the commercial buying authorities first created more than twenty years ago. Over the years, DoD in particular sought to water down or pull back those reforms. But Congress finally...