This article, delivered as the 22nd Memorial Morris Hansen lecture, argues that the contract houses, typified by Westat, are uniquely situated in the cluster of institutions, practices, and principles that collectively constitute a bridge between scientific evidence on the one hand and public policy on the other. This cluster is defined in The Use of Science as Evidence in Public Policy as a policy enterprise that generates a form of social knowledge on which modern economies, policies, and societies depend (National Research Council 2012).
The policy enterprise in the U. S. largely took shape in the first half of the twentieth century, when sample surveys and inferential statistics matured into an information system that provided reliable and timely social knowledge relevant to the nation’s policy choices. In ways described shortly, Westat and other social science organizations that respond to “request for proposals” (RFP) from the government for social data and social analysis came to occupy a unique niche.
The larger question addressed is whether the policy enterprise as we know it is prepared for the tsunami beginning to encroach on its territory. Is it going to be swamped by a data tsunami that takes information from very different sources than the familiar census/survey methods?
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