Five ways to bridge evidence-based policy & innovation: A video overview – Episode #68

Evidence-based policy and public sector innovation are sometimes seen as oppositional, but new efforts in the U.S. federal government have helped to bridge that divide, encouraging the use of both evidence and innovation. This brief video draws on that experience to provide five insights for federal, state and local policymakers.

Those insights include:

  • Ensure everyone (especially innovators) understands the value of rigorous program evaluation
  • Frame evidence-building as a tool for learning, not just an “up or down” verdict
  • Use a behavioral insights team to strengthen a culture of experimentation, even in parts of government that are not used to trying out new ways of operating.
  • Replace traditional grant programs with tiered-evidence grants, also known as innovation funds
  • Bridge “silos” within agencies by connecting experts to address key challenges
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How cities are using data to improve outcomes and save money: An interview with Stephen Goldsmith, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School – Episode #67

While there’s a lot of buzz about “big data” these days, today’s interview looks beyond the buzz to examine concrete examples of how leading cities are using data and analytics to produce tangible improvements to outcomes and save money. These cities are linking data across agencies while protecting privacy, analyzing patterns and using predictive analytics, using data to target services or enforcement to get better results, and maintaining a strong focus on outcomes and not just activities.

To learn more, we’re joined by one of the nation’s experts on public management and leadership. Stephen Goldsmith (@GoldsmithOnGov) has served as the Mayor of Indianapolis and as Deputy Mayor of New York City. He is currently a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he directs Data-Smart City Solutions initiative. His new book, co-authored by Susan Crawford, is The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance (also see the website).

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Leadership insights you (probably) won’t learn in grad school: An interview with Joanna Richard, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development – Episode #66

How do you run effective meetings? Form a productive and trusted relationship with your boss, the Secretary of an agency? Deal productively with the media? Or help lead an agency or division through a time of external political upheaval? You might not see these topics on a syllabus in graduate school, yet they are critical to bring a successful agency leader.

To gain insights into these topics, we’re joined by a seasoned public manager who has served in senior leadership roles as both a political appointee and a career civil servant. JoAnna Richard is the former Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce, under then-Governor Jim Doyle and Secretary Roberta Gassman. In that role, from 2003 to 2010, she was responsible for the internal day-to-day operations of a department of 1,600 employees and budget of nearly $2 billion. Today she is in a career (non-political) role, as the Deputy Division Administrator at the Department’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Web extras: Joanna Richard discusses how, as Deputy Secretary, she oversaw the operations of five divisions through weekly check-in meetings [click here] and she shares her reflections of how to work effectively with a governor’s office [click here]

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Lessons from a successful research-to-practice collaboration: An interview with Carolyn Heinrich, Professor, University of Texas-Austin – Episode #65

How can partnerships between the public sector and academic researchers help programs and policies to achieve significantly better results? To explore that question, we’re joined by someone who has successfully built bridges between academia and government through a range of federal, state and local projects. Carolyn Heinrich is a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and the Director of their Center for Health and Social Policy.

In the interview, we discuss lessons from a research-to-practice collaboration funded by the Institute of Education Sciences at the Department of Education. It involved six large urban school districts (Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin and Dallas) and focused on improving the performance of supplementary educational services.

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How New Mexico uses evidence to drive smart funding decisions and improve programs: An interview with Charles Sallee, Deputy Director, Legislative Finance Committee, New Mexico – Episode #64

-1In recent years, New Mexico has become a leader in using cost-benefit analysis to inform policy and budget decisions. The state is part of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative that has helped New Mexico build capacity to do this work. In particular, the legislature is able to produce analyses for legislators — think “consumer reports,” but for public policy — showing which policy options or existing programs have the most bang for the buck.

To learn more, we’re joined by Charles Sallee, the Deputy Director of the Legislative Finance Committee, who has spearheaded the implementation and communication of cost-benefit analyses to legislators and other policymakers.

Web extra: Charles Sallee discusses the other areas, aside from public safety, on which the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee has focused its cost-benefit analysis. [click here]

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Using opportunistic experiments to learn what works: An interview with Peter Schochet, Senior Fellow, Mathematica Policy Research – Episode #63

How can the public sector, including school districts, make the most of opportunities to learn what works — in other words, to fill knowledge gaps about effective policies and practices? In this interview, we discuss on an important tool for doing that: opportunistic experiments. These experiments, i.e., randomized controlled trials (RCTs), are “opportunistic” because they focus on policy or program changes that are already being planned (not changes done specifically for a study) and typically use administrative data that are already being collected. As a result, they can be lower disruption and lower cost than traditional experiments. In short, they’re a way for public leaders to do more experimentation and learning.

To get an overview of opportunistic experiments, we’re joined by Peter Schochet of Mathematica Policy Research, who is a nationally known expert on rigorous program evaluations. Earlier this year, Mathematica authored a how-to guide to using opportunistic experiments in education, as well as a guide specifically for school district leaders and principals, both funded and published by the U.S. Department of Education.


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Strengths and misperceptions of Social Impact Bonds: An interview with Jeffrey Liebman, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School – Episode #62

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) — also known as Pay for Success — are relatively new in the U.S., but interest has grown quickly at the local, state and federal levels in just a few years. Two states (NY and MA), as well as New York City, are already implementing SIBs and about a dozen other states and cities are designing them or are considering doing so.

To learn more about Social Impact Bonds, we’re joined by one of the nation’s leading experts, Jeffrey Liebman. He is a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and Director of the Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab (SIB Lab) at the Kennedy School. He previously served on the leadership team of the White House Office of Management and Budget in the Obama Administration.

In our interview, we discuss:

  • the key features of SIBs
  • why interest has grown so quickly among public leaders
  • common misperceptions about the approach
  • the role of the SIB Lab


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Designing well-crafted mission statements: An interview with Sharon Oster, Professor, Yale School of Management – Episode #61

A well-crafted mission statement is an important building block for any results-focused public sector organization, whether it’s a department, agency, office or even team. Sharon Oster joins us to talk about crafting and using mission statements. She is a Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Yale School of Management, where she previously served as the Dean. She’s also the author of the book Strategic Management of Nonprofit Organizations.

In the interview, Professor Oster discusses three functions of well-crafted mission statements: 1) setting boundaries; 2) motivating internal and external stakeholders; and 3) evaluating organizational performance. Staff within organizations that are crafting a new mission statement — or who are assessing their current one — can use these three functions to help them create a compelling and useful mission statement and then to put it into practice.



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Becoming an evidence focused grant-making organization: An interview with Kelly Fitzsimmons, Vice President, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation – Episode #60

How can grant making agencies in the public sector build their capacity to build and use rigorous evidence and help their grantees do so too? We gain insights from a successful evidence focused grant-making organization outside of government, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

A hallmark of the Foundation’s approach is a focus on evidence. It chooses and structures its investments largely on the basis of empirical evidence that a grantee or potential grantee’s programs help economically disadvantaged young people. And a major objective of the Foundation’s investments is to help grantees build their own evidence base. In doing this work, it uses a framework to assesses an organization’s evidence of effectiveness on a continuum from high apparent effectiveness to demonstrated effectiveness to proven effectiveness.

To learn more, we’re joined by Kelly Fitzsimmons who is the Foundation’s Vice President and Chief Program and Strategy Officer.

Web extras: Kelly Fitzsimmons discusses:

  • The Foundation’s pilot program PropelNext, designed to help grantees in early stages of evidence building to systematically collect and analyze data [click here]
  • The growing emphasis among nonprofits around rigorous evidence and evaluation [click here]
  • Her advice to organizations just starting their journeys to become more evidence focused [click here]

Additional resources: To learn more about tiered-evidence grant programs, in which larger grant dollars go to approaches backed by stronger evidence (a.k.a. innovation funds), see the video tutorial on the blog. Also, to see another example of a framework to assess evidence levels, see the regulations for the Investing in Innovation (i3) program at the Department of Education, page 18683, which discuss criteria for development, validation and scale-up grants.

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How program managers can use low-cost experiments to improve results: A video overview – Episode #59

How can public leaders and program managers use low-cost experiments — also knows as low-cost randomized controlled trials (RCTs) — to improve program results in government? In this blog post, rather than conducting an interview as I usually do, I provide a video overview of the topic and provide examples. An audio version is also available, above.

As I explain in the video, low-cost experiments use existing high-quality data that are already being collected, which can bring the cost of rigorous evaluation way down. As a result, low-cost experiments can be a valuable complement to more traditional evaluation approaches and open up more opportunities for program managers to experiment and learn what works.

Additional resource: An interview on the blog with Jon Baron of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy on “Rigorous program evaluation on a budget,” highlighting more examples of low-cost experiments, is located here.

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