10 cost-benefit analysis resources for journalists
Note: In April 2014 we published the white paper Using Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Policymaking. It is intended for a diverse audience, including journalists; elected officials and their staff; policymakers; people who work in adult or juvenile justice systems; and service providers.
When you’re reporting or writing about a cost-benefit study, it’s your job to extract the most important findings and decipher them for your audience, a group that’s probably not made up of analysts and economists. To the extent possible, you’ll also want to assess the quality of the research. The following materials can help you get a grip on basic cost-benefit concepts, as well as figure out what to look for in a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and what to investigate further. Because CBKB’s work focuses on criminal justice, most of these resources use examples from U.S. law enforcement, corrections, and courts:
- The CBKB Guide to Reading Cost-Benefit Reports is a simple two-page overview.
- The blog post “Three Common Mistakes Reporters Make About Cost-Benefit Analysis” summarizes three important CBA concepts that are easily misunderstood and misconstrued.
- CBKB guest blog posts provide interesting takes on CBA from researchers, justice professionals, and other contributors, such as this expert on early childhood development who spoke with us about costs, benefits, and crime prevention.
- Our CBA toolkit examines 10 topic areas, such as victim costs and monetizing benefits. (See the page for each tool for additional resources.)
- These blog posts refute three myths about CBA:
- “Informing Justice Policy Decisions Through Cost-Benefit Analysis,” Part 1, is the first segment of an interview with Steve Aos, now the director of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. In just a few minutes, he discusses reviewing evidence and determining what works; developing CBA models; and making recommendations to legislators, who often incorporate that information in public policy. (To watch Parts 2-7 of the interview, click on the link above and then on the YouTube icon.)
- The blog post “Think Like a Reporter: How to Investigate a Cost-Benefit Analysis” gives more ideas about how to make sense of a study and its findings.
- These publications are recommended if you like (or if you’re interested in) getting into the technical nuts and bolts of CBA.