Alumni Voices from Government: Kelly Bidwell, J-PAL NA '15

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Kelly Bidwell
Kelly Bidwell stands in front of a colorful pattern backdrop
Photo: Behavioral Science and Policy Association

Formerly a senior policy manager at J-PAL North America, Kelly Bidwell '15 now leads the Office of Evaluation Sciences within the United States General Services Administration. She describes her work to drive evidence generation and use across US government agencies in this post. 

I serve as the Director of the Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES), in the Office of Government-wide Policy, within the General Services Administration (GSA). I also serve as GSA’s Evaluation Officer and Statistical Official.

OES is a team of interdisciplinary experts that work across government to help agencies build and use evidence. OES provides government-wide expertise and support on leading practices for evidence-building and evaluations, and partners with Federal agencies to answer priority questions using rapid and rigorous evaluation. OES also runs an annual fellowship program to bring talent into government to help tackle agency evaluation needs.

When I joined J-PAL to help stand up this team and effort, I was working for Innovations for Poverty Action and at that time was based in Lagos, looking at access to early childhood education services. I got a call from Iqbal Dhaliwal, via a choppy connection in Lagos, to discuss joining J-PAL and helping to stand up the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST). It was incredibly exciting to be part of setting up the SBST and to see the huge interest inside and outside of government to bring and apply relevant scientific expertise to government challenges.

Now, as Director of the OES, my day-to-day role involves back-to-back meetings with government agencies in need of support building evidence, academics (including a number of J-PAL affiliates such as Stefano DellaVigna and Day Manoli) interested in applying their expertise to improve government programs and policies, and with the amazing OES team to put the pieces together. As it is for most people, carving out time to work on large projects, write, and have the space to think and plan is challenging.

It’s been a privilege to serve with my talented colleagues at SBST and OES. It’s a group of humble, gracious, kind thought leaders who could be successful anywhere, and have decided to dedicate their time to improving government through generation and use of rigorous evidence. I am thankful for the talent, dedication, and caliber of the team every day.

The past two years have been an incredibly exciting time in the evidence-building space in the federal government, with the passage of the Evidence-based Policy Making Act over two years ago. For those interested, some of the initial overview and guidance is here.

Quite soon, federal agencies will have public-facing multi-year learning agendas and annual evaluation plans, which will give the broader academic community greater insight into priorities and, hopefully, lead to new connections and partnerships. My role has changed a bit as a result, now taking on responsibility for GSA’s development and implementation of a learning agenda and annual evaluation plans.

My time at IPA and J-PAL taught me much of what I know about evidence, evaluation, and building networks, initiatives, and teams.  I’m incredibly grateful for that training and professional experience. I’ve appreciated staying in touch with my IPA and J-PAL colleagues and having the ability to use them as a sounding board and source of great ideas and contacts.

There is huge demand for evidence and evaluation skills in the federal government right now. If you’re interested in learning more or connecting, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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