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LEARN > Evidence Act Hub > Data Foundation RFI on Methods and Practices for Advancing PPCE

Data Foundation RFI on Methods and Practices for Advancing PPCE

RE: RFI on Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Public Participation and Community Engagement With the Federal Government (89 FR 19885)

Associate Director Schulman and Associate Administrator Berger – 

The Data Foundation is a national non-profit organization that champions the use of open data and evidence-informed public policy to make society better for everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Request for Information (RFI) about Methods and Practices for Advancing Public Participation and Community Engagement (PPCE) across and with the government. On behalf of the members of our Data Coalition, our Board, and our partners, the Data Foundation applauds efforts by the White House and the Office of Management and Budget to genuinely improve engagement between the American public and their government, including those efforts that improve openness and transparency of government. The Data Foundation strongly supports OMB’s initiative to develop a government-wide framework for PPCE and offers the comments below in response to the RFI and for consideration as the initiative moves forward. 

The Data Foundation routinely engages with federal agencies as well as partners from businesses, nonprofits, academia, and communities across the country. In the course of our work, our teams and partners contribute to the implementation of evidence-building laws and policies in addition to a variety of data policy and use activities that benefit government and the public alike. For example, we host public engagement forums to seek feedback and gather perspectives that are useful for the government by catalyzing a community to engage on particular topics. On occasion, these have been arranged under Memoranda of Understanding with the federal government, like our partnerships with the White House in developing the Federal Data Strategy, with the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General on Modernizing Data for Oversight, and with the General Services Administration on open government data strategies and planning. However, sometimes these activities are hosted with resources identified by our organization to support engagement processes for government, that may include participation of government officials, such as a forum hosted by the Data Foundation on a draft regulation issued under the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) and roundtable convenings to encourage comments and feedback on Statistical Policy Directive Number 15 and OMB’s updates to the Uniform Grant Guidance. These types of activities, while illustrative for our community of partners, clearly demonstrate firsthand how effective public engagement can help positively transform policymaking and implementation. This is the case even when the provided comments are considered, adapted, or, in some cases, not ultimately fully incorporated into the final policy framework.

Effective engagement is not a compliance exercise; it generates comprehensive insight that enhances an agency's understanding and ensures policies reflect diverse real-world perspectives. The perspectives provided through effective engagement processes form a type of evidence useful and valid in evidence-informed decision-making across democratic institutions and society. Importantly, the Evidence Act includes engagement on critical activities under the 5-year-old legal framework, providing a strong basis for aligning PPCE with evidentiary processes and evaluative thinking in the years ahead. A well-designed, robust PPCE framework has the potential to significantly improve how the federal government interacts with the American public, leading to more inclusive, informed, and transparent decision-making. If we’re really trying to use government policies to improve outcomes for the American people, effective engagement must be part of identifying the programmatic theories of change, meaningful implementation strategies, and outcomes that matter so that the public can also use those tools to hold its government accountable for achieving positive change.

In 2023, the Data Foundation published a Stakeholder Engagement Toolkit designed to specifically encourage and facilitate effective engagement strategies in agencies. The toolkit provides agencies with practical strategies for implementing meaningful public participation, aligned with the stated goals of the emerging OMB framework on PPCE. We hope this resource and the transdisciplinary theories on which it was constructed can be a tool for developing a more robust federal framework by OMB. 

Earlier this year, in 2024, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) also published a consensus panel study on Managing Privacy and Confidentiality Risks with Blended Data that references the Data Foundation’s Stakeholder Engagement Toolkit. Importantly, the CNSTAT report approaches engagement in a very open and honest way, recognizing that “engagement activities are traditionally difficult and costly to implement on a recurring basis….[in] the panel’s view, engagement with key stakeholders is not only a matter of responsiveness to the public but also an essential matter for identifying, planning, and managing risks with blended data…” The panel observed that the implications for effective engagement are at the heart of our country’s ability to meaningfully and reliably use data and evidence in the future; thus, the consequence of addressing processes and procedures to promote effective engagement in agencies is timely and of critical importance for enabling evidence-informed decision-making to succeed in the long-term for the American people. 

Recommendations for OMB on a PPCE Framework

Drawing from the Data Foundation’s experience with our partners, the guidance in our Stakeholder Engagement Toolkit, and our knowledge of transdisciplinary theory on this topic, we offer the following four recommendations for OMB on developing a useful PPCE framework:

  1. Align the framework with existing processes to understand capacity for integrating engagement into decision-making. The Evidence Act requires agencies to undertake evidence capacity assessments, multi-year learning agendas, and annual evaluation plans. Each of these activities can provide the basis for strategic alignment and prioritization of engagement within agencies while also reinforcing ongoing and existing processes within the agencies.
  2. Build evaluation and learning mechanisms into the PPCE framework. Now that OMB has recognized evaluation as a core function of government, it is incumbent on OMB to also expect that evaluation processes and learning are embedded into the framework during program design – at the outset – rather than in several decades when we are again seeking to reignite engagement. Investing in effective engagement also means investing in effective evaluative infrastructure and evidence-building, alongside sustained leadership for these functions. OMB’s framework should include plans to collect data on engagement, including measures that extend beyond attendance at meetings or notices issued to evaluate outcomes and impacts of engagement on policies, practices, and communities.
  3. Engagement necessarily varies by policy and stakeholder/community; plan for flexibilities in agency mission, scale, and scope. Meaningful engagement requires time, trust, and resources to become effective, particularly for marginalized communities that have been adversely affected historically. OMB must consider how different types of policies affect different communities in devising meaningful engagement practices within a framework that builds, restores, or – in some cases – creates trust to facilitate participation. A one-size-fits-all directive for engagement is unlikely to be successful.
  4. Incorporate and highlight existing tools, resources, and processes. OMB’s call for promising practices in the RFI is encouraging and the Data Foundation encourages OMB to use existing tools as a starting point. Relevant available resources may include the Data Foundation's Stakeholder Engagement Toolkit and the U.S. Public Participation Playbook from Digital.gov. In addition, the stakeholder mapping exercise from the Learning Agenda Design Sprint and other simulation-based approaches hold promise for engaging policymakers alongside key stakeholder communities. These tools and others offer practical guidance for stakeholder identification, mapping, and various engagement methods. Additionally, exemplary models of sustained engagement such as HHS's LymeX public-private partnership and the multi-agency Household Pulse Survey collaboration approach can demonstrate for agencies what has come before, and what future work could look like. 

The Data Foundation supports OMB's effort to develop a public participation and community engagement framework as a catalyst for a more accessible, transparent, and accountable government. However, this initiative must be developed collaboratively by incorporating both internal and external stakeholder perspectives that are also sensitive to the needs of respective communities. We note, for example, that the RFI seeking comments and feedback on the framework was published with a deadline during the 1-month period with the highest paperwork burden imposed on the American public and American businesses/nonprofits. 

Grounded in our core values of transparency and radical collaboration, the Data Foundation partners and team are happy to contribute further as the work proceeds. A PPCE framework presents an important opportunity to enable and operationalize stakeholder engagement for evidence-informed policymaking and effective government.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment. Please reach out to Sara Stefanik, our Director of Evidence Capacity (sara@datafoundation.org) with any questions or to discuss how we may offer further support to OMB’s efforts. 

Sincerely,

Nick Hart, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Data Foundation

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