A Great Day for Open Policy Analysis

How the best tweet of the year came not from Taylor Swift, or Barack Obama... but from CBO.

Earlier this year, we wrote a blog post outlining our vision for bringing “Open Science” into policy analysis. The basic idea is simple: government policy analysts should show their work and allow others to critically examine every element of the analysis (data, code, etc). We call this Open Policy Analysis (OPA).

As with the open science movement, a few pioneers have been voicing concerns about the opaqueness of policy reports for a long time now (see Charles Manski’s work). But the idea of “open” policy reports has been slow to gain traction. Fortunately, momentum is starting to build. The charity evaluator Givewell publishes its analyses online, the Open Source Policy Center posts all of its code, and the US Congress is even debating a law to improve the transparency of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

CBO is of the most influential producers of policy analysis in the US. The office produces heavily-cited policy reports (including annual budget and deficit projections) and publishes cost estimates for all new legislation being debated.

The author presents on “Open Policy Analysis” before the US Congressional Budget Office, March 2018.

Earlier this year, I headed over to the CBO to share my efforts to “reverse engineer” one of their debated reports, on the projected effects of a minimum wage increase. I recreated the CBO analysis in a fully transparent and reproducible format, using tools that are now common in the open science community.

Analysts at the agency seemed very receptive to the idea of OPA… So you can imagine how excited I was to see the following tweet from CBO yesterday.

Some people get excited when a celebrity reveals intimate personal details on twitter, or when a pundit remarks on major political events. For me, those sweet 93 characters — representing “technocracy-at-its-best” — qualify as top tweet of the year.

CBO’s move is pretty landmark. This is the first time (to my knowledge) that a major policy agency has published both the data and code behind some of its key policy reports. As I’ve written in past, this is a major step in the fight against “alternative facts”. It’s a step toward directly connecting research with policy. And by making policy analysis more reproducible, it can increase the efficiency of producing future policy reports.

So yes, I was very happy to see that CBO is moving in the right direction.

To keep the momentum going, we at BITSS will be hosting a number of convenings focused on OPA. The 2018 BITSS Annual Meeting (at UC Berkeley this December) will have a special focus on OPA, bringing together key players in the nascent “open policy” movement. In the upcoming months, I’ll be presenting our work to researchers, policy analysts and policy-makers from around the world — including Givewell, UK Aid, and APPAM, the American professional society for policy analysts.

More broadly, we will be developing a new model for collaboration among policy analysts, policy-makers and researchers, with the aim of fostering more direct impact on high-level government decisions. A key element in this three-way collaboration will be (you guessed it!) Open Policy Analysis.