“The problem is not so much what we don’t know; it’s what we think we know that just ain’t so.” (Attributed to Mark Twain)

Last week, the House Budget Committee introduced its Fiscal Year 2016 budget, “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America.” Although the bill includes the highest margin of cuts ever proposed by the Committee, the proposed $3.8 trillion in spending represents one fifth of our country’s total economic output. With such large stakes, there is a growing movement in Washington to support funding practices with evidence that the programs being financed will achieve their goals. Evidence-based decision making at a policy level is a cause that is deeply related to the future work of all designers of living systems. Policy directs federal spending and without economic support, projects ranging from native restoration and trail development to the revitalization of downtown business districts may not be realized.

Evidence-based designers and policymakers share a common belief that investment opportunities should be weighed against the most reliable proof of return available, and that this return should be evaluated within the objectives of the program (or project in our case). All interventions within the social and physical environment have a range of outcomes – cultural, economic, and ecological—each of which is associated with a definitive field of professionals committed to researching the changing needs and limits of healthy societies. There is no one field that has all the answers. As designers of living systems we see our role as a bridge between the realm of research and the inhabitable space in which evidence-based principles are tested. We believe that professionals can empower evidence-based policy making by integrating performance evaluation into design and planning projects, and by testing proposed best practices in market conditions.

Political climates can and will shift. Policies are made and repealed. Within this environment, the evidence base built by the design community will be a constant. While the research will continue to evolve and build upon itself, decision makers at all levels can find common ground in the type of data that can only be obtained by the people who make and shape human spaces: studies that assess a project from the moment a need was first identified to its implementation, establishment and eventual occupation and use.

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