Abstract

Straddling past and present can be precarious, but it is not impossible to merge the knowledge gained through contemporary and historical study to advance understanding of both. Skillfully combining the methods and findings of policy history with those of policy analysis can produce a synergy with great value for both disciplines. Examples drawn from more than twenty years experience with the USDA illustrate key principles for positive crossfertilization between study of the past and of the present. From historical analysis, these principles include disciplines of evidence-based analysis and skeptical inquiry using diverse sources, breadth of vision regarding context, and the perspective of time. From policy analysis, they include the disciplines of statistical methods, awareness of the multiple interacting components of policy formation, and the impacts on analysis and decision-making of working from the present without knowledge of what is to come.

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