Hundreds of sticky notes on a wall.

Friends of Evidence

Using collective thinking to take a broader, more equitable approach to evidence

This project is no longer active, but we believe that the outcomes and resources generated through the work are still of value.

Who We Are

The Friends of Evidence, comprised of researchers, practitioners, and thought leaders, were originally convened in 2011 by CSSP to encourage a broader and more inclusive definition and use of evidence. We shared the conviction that new ways of working for social change require changes in the types of evidence we gather and how we use that evidence. 

Our Work

Prevailing approaches to generating, analyzing, assessing and applying evidence do not adequately inform decision-makers in social policy. They focus too narrowly on programs, without sufficient attention to the complex system and community changes needed to achieve improved and more equitable outcomes at scale. We work for a radically strengthened knowledge development enterprise that will support more effective efforts to improve outcomes and eliminate inequities based on race, ethnicity, income and geography.

Over the last eight years, the Friends of Evidence convened three national symposiums, each of which led to a paper that was widely disseminated. We then developed a series of case studies that profile organizations and communities modeling an expanded knowledge development enterprise, and that demonstrate the benefits they are obtaining from this approach. These were accompanied by two additional papers setting out ways to provide better evidence for decisionmakers. Finally, we developed a framework for advancing equity through improved approaches to evaluation and learning.

The Friends of Evidence came together quite informally, beginning in 2011, under the impetus of Frank Farrow, President of the Center for the Study of Social Policy; Lisbeth B. Schorr, Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Social Policy; and Joshua Sparrow, MD, Director of Strategy, Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Boston Children’s Hospital. The dozen of us who made up the Friends of Evidence from the outset had in common a passionate interest in improving outcomes for the children and families who were not faring well in today’s society, though we came at these challenges from diverse perspectives.

As we engaged each other in conversation and interviewed some of our colleagues to obtain a wider set of views, we found that our varied backgrounds and experiences had led us to shared observations and convictions about the role of evidence in efforts (public and philanthropic, local, regional, and national) to improve outcomes and to ensure the wise allocation of scarce resources. We also found that a growing number of distinguished leaders, across diverse fields, disciplines, and sectors, were drawing similar conclusions about the limitations of the recent evidence mindset, and were seeking each other out to define a more effective one. We were eager to explore these issues together and agreed to meet periodically and to seek support, hoping that our explorations would lead us to some critical insights that we might sharpen and
act on with others.

Members of the Friends of Evidence

Susan Bales
Founder & Senior Advisor
FrameWorks Institute

Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP
President Emeritus & Senior Fellow
Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Angela Glover Blackwell
Founder in Residence

Anthony Bryk
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Deborah Daro
Senior Research Fellow
Chapin Hall, University of Chicago

Kathleen P. Enright
President and CEO
Council on Foundations

Frank Farrow
Center for the Study of Social Policy

Thaddeus Ferber
Vice President for Policy
The Forum for Youth Investment

Lawrence Green, DPH
Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
UCSF School of Medicine

Michele Jolin
Founder and Managing Partner
Results for America

John Kania
Executive in Residence
New Profit

Nat Kendall-Taylor
Research Director
FrameWorks Institute

Patti Patrizi
Patrizi and Associates

Charles Payne
Professor, School of Social Service Administration
University of Chicago

Karen Pittman
President and CEO
The Forum for Youth Investment

Donald J. Peurach, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Education, University of Michigan

Alice Rivlin (deceased)
Former Director, Office of Management and Budget
Brookings Institution

Joshua Sparrow, MD
Executive Director, Brazelton Touchpoints Center
President, Brazelton Touchpoints Foundation
Boston Children’s Hospital