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Evidence In Action

Author: The Urban Institute

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What does it look like when evidence drives change for people and communities? To find out, we ask influential leaders the tough questions. How do you prioritize the roles of research and facts? How do you turn policy into practice? And how do you hold yourself accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion progression in your leadership? Evidence in Action (formerly Critical Value)  inspires changemakers to lead with evidence and act with equity. 

At a time when trust in institutions is low and the spread of misinformation is rampant, effective, inclusive leadership is more important than ever. Every episode, Urban Institute’s President Sarah Rosen Wartell and Senior Vice President Kimberlyn Leary will have in-depth discussions with experts and leaders on topics ranging from how to advance equity, public policy impact, and good governance, to designing innovative solutions that achieve community impact, to what it means to practice evidence-based leadership.  

This feed was formerly Critical Value, now it is Evidence in Action. Both podcasts are produced by Urban Institute and center public policy from an evidence perspective. 

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity. We are a trusted source for changemakers who seek to strengthen decision-making, create inclusive economic growth, and improve the well-being of families and communities. For more than 50 years, Urban has delivered facts that inspire solutions—and this remains our charge today.

90 Episodes
Kim hosts a conversation that delves into the dynamic relationship between evidence-driven change and the pursuit of social and racial equity when institutions prioritize these goals. We are joined by Michael Elliott, the current President of Amherst College. He has led significant institutional change efforts at different universities he’s been a part of. We unveil compelling narratives that showcase how evidence acts as a driving force in dismantling systemic barriers, rectifying injustices, and nurturing inclusivity within research institutions. From addressing discriminatory practices to championing racial equity, we spotlight the concrete impact that evidence-backed initiatives have on advancing organizations. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We tackle the challenging question of how evidence can drive change for people and communities in a climate of widespread institutional distrust. We explore the root causes of this erosion of trust and its impact on decision-making processes. Join us as we uncover innovative strategies that can bridge the gap between evidence and action, rebuild trust in institutions, and empower communities to actively participate in shaping their own future. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We explore how evidence shapes policy, philanthropy, and learning agendas to help drive social change. We also unpack the challenges changemaking institutions can face when incorporating evidence and evaluation into their processes. And we offer insights into how governments and other institutions can foster more trust with the people and communities they serve. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We explore the use of data and evidence in policy making and higher education. We will hear from Doug Elmendorf, dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, about teaching the next generation. How are educators teaching students about the role of data and evidence in discourse and persuasion? We will also dive into policy areas where Doug sees the most room for compromise and progress and hear his takes on policy issues likely to be at the forefront of political debate in this election year. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We examine the unique challenges and opportunities of using evidence to drive change within the context of a social movement, particularly in an era of heightened partisanship and media influence. We explore how evidence can serve as a powerful tool to galvanize social movements, but also the potential pitfalls when facts are obscured by ideological divides. Join us as we explore strategies for promoting evidence-based narratives, fostering constructive dialogue, and achieving meaningful change in the face of polarization. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We are joined by Heather Hahn, associate Vice President for the Urban Institute Center on Labor, Human Services and Population, to discuss the complexities and challenges of safety net programs in the U.S. Heather helps us probe into the history of these programs and the influence of traditional American values on their design. We look at the barriers that individuals, particularly those from communities of color, face in accessing these programs, as we reveal the inadequate nature of certain support systems like Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF and how they affect the needs of those they aim to serve. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We’re joined by Michael McAfee, President and CEO of PolicyLink, for a wide-ranging conversation on what it means to lead and carry out work that is in service to all people. We discuss the tension between individual worldviews and what evidence shows, especially when pursuing social change that is enduring, scalable, and genuinely centers people most in need. We also explore what McAfee calls a “hierarchy of human value” operating system, how to marry idealism with practicality as a leader, and what it will take to create a thriving democracy that recognizes our shared humanity. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We explore the resurgence of interest in rural communities. We delve into the current state of rural research, uncovering the gaps compared to urban research. We dive into the legacies of the deepest poverty in America and the mechanisms through which it persists. We’ll hear from Luke Shaefer, co-author of a new book, The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America about the poorest places in the country – from Appalachia, the Cotton and Tobacco Belts, and South Texas – to examine the inequalities shaping people’s health, livelihoods, and upward social mobility and develop a multidimensional Index of Deep Disadvantage. Using a data-driven approach, Luke Shaefer has sought to understand what these places have in common and the potential for positive change. However, for real transformation to occur, evidence-based policies tailored to each unique rural landscape are essential. We’ll discuss transformative visions for rural research, advocating for national-level funding and coordination, policy relevance through an asset-based lens, and cross-stakeholder collaboration. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We are joined by author and immigration advocate Cecilia Muñoz who served for eight years on President Obama's senior team, including five years leading the White House Domestic Policy Council as an assistant to President Obama. Cecilia opens up about how her experience as a Midwestern Latina shaped her identity, and how she pivoted from working as an advocate in the Latinx community to formulating immigration policy for the White House. Cecilia shares why it’s okay for leaders to second guess themselves, and the nuance of using data to influence actionable social change. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
We explore the potential of applying locally sourced solutions to address national problems. We examine how research organizations can harness evidence from grassroots initiatives, community-led projects, and local expertise to inform national policies and drive meaningful change. Join us in our conversation with Stephen Benjamin, who served as Mayor of Columbia South Carolina for 3 terms over 12 years and as the President of the African American Mayors Association. In 2023 he began serving as the Director of the Office of Public Engagement for the Biden administration. He tells us about policymakers, and community advocates push for the power of localized evidence in shaping effective, inclusive, and sustainable solutions that have a positive impact on people and communities nationwide To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
In the series premiere of the Evidence in Action, Kim and Sarah explore the multifaceted role of evidence, revealing how it can inform and refine policies for better social, economic, and environmental outcomes. We delve into the pivotal uses of evidence in various contexts. We unravel how evidence can be harnessed to detect problems, identify effective strategies, and refine practices. From pinpointing areas that need attention to unveiling effective practices, this episode uncovers the transformative power of evidence in driving policy improvements. This season tune in to gain insights into the diverse applications of evidence, and discover how federal policymakers and program managers can leverage this critical tool to enhance policies, programs, and societal outcomes. To learn more about Evidence In Action and the Urban Institute please visit
Welcome to Evidence in Action, a new podcast from the Urban Institute. In this season, co-hosts Sarah Rosen Wartell, President of the Urban Institute and Kimberlyn Leary, Executive Vice President of the Urban Institute, are going to explore the role of evidence and how it can help us to shape policy and achieve better social, economic, and environmental outcomes. On every episode, we'll be joined by a brilliant guest, ranging from federal policy makers, local leaders, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and those who meet community needs.
Vaccines work -- but they only work if people get them. How can communities make sure that as many of their residents get vaccinated as possible? Host Justin Milner talks with Urban Institute researcher Leandra Lacy; Luis Garcia, director of technology and analytics at El Buen Samaritano; and Treshika Melvin, advocacy, training, and power building director at Springboard to Opportunities, about how to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence, especially in areas where racial and ethnic disparities exist. This episode was produced with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Related Links: Partnering for Vaccine Equity Leveraging Community Expertise to Advance Health Equity Emerging Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic for Building Urban Health Equity
Equitable community engagement and development can seed systems change that supports long-term health and well-being within communities. Host Justin Milner talks with Urban Institute researcher Laudy Aron; Maggie Super Church, vice president for healthy and resilient communities at the Conservation Law Foundation; Vedette Gavin, senior research consultant at the Conservation Law Foundation; and Robyn Gibson, resident researcher and site coordinator for the Healthy Neighborhoods Study, about what equitable community engagement and development looks like in practice. This episode was produced with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.   Related Links: Blame Policies, Not Places, for Poor Health What’s Different When the Community Collects the Data? Driving Systems Change Forward: Leveraging Multisite, Cross-Sector Initiatives to Change Systems, Advance Racial Equity, and Shift Power Mutual Accountability Is the Key to Equity-Oriented Systems Change Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund Healthy Neighborhoods Study New Insights On How Philanthropy Can Improve Community Health
All young people need support and a runway to independence to develop into thriving adults. For those without this support, that’s where public safety net programs come in⁠—but the safety net has substantial gaps and barriers that make access challenging for young people. Host Justin Milner talks with Urban researcher Heather Hahn, young people who’ve interacted with the safety net, and employees at youth-serving organizations to understand how to improve safety net programs for 14-to-24-year-olds in ways that meet their basic needs and build on their strengths. Related Links: Young People and the Safety Net Young People’s Lived Experiences with Safety Net Programs: Insights from Young People and Youth-Serving Organizations Understanding the Challenges Young People Face in Navigating the Safety Net
As the nation aims to recover from the pandemic, policymakers have the opportunity to implement policies that build toward a more inclusive, equitable society. Host Justin Milner talks with Urban Institute researcher Kimberly Burrowes; Jon Kher Kaw, senior urban development specialist at the World Bank; Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Richard Sewell, deputy director for digital infrastructure for the Welsh government, about how innovative policies and programs from abroad could inform initiatives in the United States. This episode was produced with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Related Links:    From the Streets to Citizen Spaces  Lessons from Superfast Cymru for Broadband Access in the United States  Lessons from Abroad for an Inclusive Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Registered tech apprenticeship programs create vital pathways for diverse candidates to enter the tech industry, supplying companies with needed talent while advancing the crucial industry goals to cultivate an inclusive tech workforce. Host Justin Milner talks with Urban Institute researchers Diana Elliott and Fernando Hernandez-Lepe; apprentices Chrystal Yeoman and Jed Beddo; and Sarah Boisvert, founder and CEO of Fab Lab Hub and New Collar Network in Santa Fe, New Mexico, about common challenges stakeholders face when developing tech apprenticeships, how tech apprenticeships can address skills and opportunity mismatches between employers and workers, and how apprenticeships can increase diversity in the tech industry.
It’s been 17 months since the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed our lives. It has been difficult, but we have found some outlets helped us reflect on, and even escape, our current reality. On this episode with guest host Jacinth Jones, you’ll hear from Urban staff about the books, miniseries and podcasts that have been getting them through since March 2020. Related Links: WandaVision, The Death of Vivek Oji, The Vanishing Half, The Kite Runner, The Atomic Habits, A Gentleman in Moscow, Las Culturistas with Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang, Maintenance Phase, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT Up New York, 1987 to 1993
A lot of the conversation around improving education outcomes centers the effectiveness of teachers, but how important are principals in shaping students’ direction and success? Host Justin Milner talks with Constance Lindsay of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Urban Institute, Michele Shannon of the Leadership Academy, and Kerensa Wing, principal at Collins Hill High School, about who principals are, how their role has changed, how they can be as effective as possible, and how they can advance equity in our school systems.   Related Links: How Principals Affect Students and Schools Culturally responsive leadership matters, research indicates
The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act could reduce poverty among families with children by half. How will this work, and why is it a big deal? Host Justin Milner talks with tax policy expert Elaine Maag and Gaynell Brady and M.A. Sheehan from the Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association in New Orleans about the expansion of the child tax credit and ways to ensure all families benefit from it.
Comments (3)

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