How Utah became a leader in evidence-based policymaking: An interview with Kristen Cox, Director, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, and Jonathan Ball, Director, Utah Fiscal Analysts Office – Episode #132

jon-ball Kris-CoxUtah is one of the top states in the U.S. in terms of evidence-based policymaking and budgeting. In particular, with efforts by the Utah State Legislature and the administration of Governor Gary Herbert, Utah has created a variety of agency-specific and cross-agency tools to incorporate evidence into policy and funding decisions. That includes:

  • A requirement from the Governor’s budget office that agencies seeking new funding provide evidence of program efficiency and effectiveness and, for new programs, describe their program evaluation strategy.
  • The Herbert administration’s use of a performance management framework for agencies.
  • A requirement by the Legislature that proposals for new or significantly expanded programs require a performance note that describes how the program will measure its success (with followup by state auditors to track results).
  • A statewide registry of evidence-based prevention interventions that guides the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health in contracting decisions.
  • Working with the Pew MacArthur Results First Initiative, the creation of a comprehensive cost-benefit model in juvenile justice to help lawmakers identify evidence-based policies that provide the best
    return on taxpayers’ investment.

To learn more, we are joined by Kristen Cox, the Director of the Office of Planning and Budget for Governor Gary Herbert, and Jonathan Ball, the Director of the Utah Fiscal Analysts Office for the Legislature.

How the State of Mississippi uses evidence-based budgeting to increase return on investment and improve program outcomes: An interview with Toby Barker, Mississippi State Representative – Episode #131

Toby BarkerOver the past several years, the State of Mississippi has taken important steps to use evidence in order to get better results from state spending and, in turn, achieve better outcomes for the people of Mississippi. That includes defining tiers of evidence to focus funding on what works; creating comprehensive program inventories that categorize the level of evidence relating to each program’s effectiveness; and reinvigorating the state’s use of evidence-based budgeting (also known as performance-based budgeting), including using a set of questions to guide funding decisions called the “Seven Elements of Quality Program Design.”

To learn more, we’re joined by someone who has been closely involved in these efforts, Toby Barker (@toby_barker). First elected to the legislature in 2007 at the age of 25, today his is the Chairman of Performance-Based Budgeting Committee, which launched in 2016. He also sits on several other committees, including Appropriations. He is a Republican state representative whose district covers Central Hattiesburg.

More information: Mississippi is part of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, which Toby Barker references in the interview. For more information, see the Gov Innovator podcast interview with Gary VanLandingham of Results First. [click here]. Also see the initiative’s Guide to Evidence-Based Budget Development.

How a UK nonprofit, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), is building rigorous evidence about how to close achievement gaps in education: An interview with Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive, EEF – Episode #130

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. To do that, it has a unique strategy: increasing the supply of high-quality evidence about what works in order to enable better decisions by teachers and school leaders. Launched in 2011 with a founding grant of 125 million pounds from the UK Department of Education, today it operates as an independent grant making nonprofit. With investment and fundraising income, it intends to award about 200 million pounds over 15 years. Remarkably, today about one in four schools in the UK is taking part in some type of EEF-funded randomized controlled trial to learn what works in education policy and practice — or to learn how best to convey evidence-based approaches to teachers and encourage their use.

To learn more, we are joined by EEF’s founding Executive Director, Sir Kevan Collins. He has worked in the public sector for over 30 years, including serving as Chief Executive of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and, before that, as Director of Children’s Services for that borough.

Transforming Federal grant programs from compliance driven to results focused: An interview with Robert Gordon, former Acting Deputy Director, White House Office of Management and Budget – Episode #129

If you think about what the Federal government does, grant making may not be the first thing you think of. Even so, billions of dollars flow from the Federal level to states, localities and nonprofits in the form of grants. How can the Federal government encourage more evidence-based policy and innovation through the grant making process?

We get insights from Robert Gordon who held top leadership roles at the White House Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Education — and was one of the architects of the Obama Administration’s evidence agenda. He’s also the co-author with Ron Haskins of a bipartisan agenda for strengthening the use of data and evidence, published in the book Moneyball for Government. He is currently a Senior Vice President at the College Board.

In the interview, he discusses three of the grant-related strategies presented in the “Moneyball” chapter. They are for Federal agencies to:

  • conduct grant-program “look backs” to replace mandates for processes with incentives for outcomes;
  • transform existing formula and competitive grants to use more evidence;
  • create new flexibility to test new approaches to fighting poverty.

Web extra: Robert Gordon discusses how evidence-based policy can be an area of agreement between leaders from different political parties around the goal of spending smart. [click here]

Creating successful researcher-practitioner partnerships at the Federal level: An interview with Dayanand Manoli, Professor, University of Texas at Austin – Episode #128

An important and underused opportunity for public agencies to improve their results and tackle critical challenges is researcher-practitioner partnerships. When researchers and government executives team up, public agencies can get credible answers to important operational and strategic questions. That can include insights from empirical analyses as well as from field experiments.

To get insights into what it takes to create a successful researcher-practitioner partnership, we’re joined by Dayanand Manoli. He is an economist at University of Texas at Austin whose research interests include policy related to social security and retirement policy, income tax policy and education policy. He has collaborated with the IRS on several research projects.

Raising job quality and skills for American workers through more effective education and workforce development within states: An interview with Harry Holzer, Professor, Georgetown University – Episode #127

holzerHow can the United States raise job quality and skills for American workers through more effective education and workforce development within states? In particular:

  • How can we fix the misalignment between the skills of Americans without college degrees and the workforce needs of well-paying industries that do not necessarily require a college degree?
  • And how can we create a learning strategy where we incentivize states to produce better outcomes for community college graduates and then learn what works among state approaches?

We get insights into those questions from Harry Holzer, a leading thinker on workforce issues. He is the former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and is today a professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

In the interview, we discuss Harry Holzer’s policy recommendations, including 1) Providing more resources to community colleges but also creating incentives and accountability by basing state subsidies on student completion rates and earnings of graduates; 2) Expanding high-quality career and technical education plus work-based learning models like apprenticeship; and 3) Assisting and incentivizing employers to create more good jobs.

Using school-based health centers to address the health needs of low-income youth: An interview with Olga Acosta Price, Professor, The George Washington University – Episode #126

How can communities better address young people’s physical and emotional health needs? A growing trend is the use of school-based health centers. The goal is to provide convenient, accessible, and comprehensive health care services to students from pre-k through high school by having a health provider — or sometimes an interdisciplinary health provider team — that is co-located in the school setting.

To learn more about the trends in school-based health centers and the evidence of their impact, we’re joined by a leading expert on the topic, Olga Acosta Price. She is an Associate Professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University and director of its Center for Health and Health Care in Schools. Her recent paper published by the Brookings Institution focuses on school-centered approaches to improving community health.

Web extra: Olga Price discusses how the recent clarification of the free care rule issued by the Federal government helps facilitate broader use of school-based health centers. [click here]

How one Federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, strengthened the role of evidence in a key grant program, AmeriCorps: An interview with Diana Epstein and Carla Ganiel, CNCS – Episode #125

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is probably best known for overseeing the AmeriCorps program. The program provides grants to nonprofits and local governments to address community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment.  The money pays to support AmeriCorps members and their activities, whether it’s tutoring in an elementary school or building affordable housing in response to a national disaster.  The funding includes about $230 million in competitive grants to about 350 grantees. In 2014, AmeriCorps began prioritizing evidence in the scoring criteria by which it awards those competitive grants.

To learn more, including advice for other Federal agencies, we are joined by Diana Epstein who is a manager in the Office of Research and Evaluation at CNCS and Carla Ganiel who is a Senior Program Specialist with the AmeriCorps program.

Twelve “better practices” that can help public leaders tackle key organizational challenges and boost results: An interview with Bob Behn, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School – Episode #124

Bob Behn of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) is one of the leading thinkers on the subjects of public management and leadership. He has argued that public agencies are unlikely to produce better results simply by creating rules, requirements or performance systems. A more effective approach, he notes, is to help managers learn better leadership practices.

In particular, he recommends twelve practices or leadership skills that can help organizations strengthen their performance. Our discussion draws on his original paper on the topic, published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, which discussed eleven of those practices.

To give us an overview, we’re joined by Bob Behn, speaking with us (probably with a baseball tie on) from Boston. A professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, he is the faculty chair of the executive program called Driving Government Performance. He also publishes monthly insights though his Public Leadership Report, which is available free online.

Web extra: Bob Behn describes the connection between the these twelve practices and the PerformanceStat approach to public leadership, which was the focus of his most recent book. [click here]

How school districts can use rigorous program evaluation to test new education reforms: An interview with Matthew Lenard, Director, Data Strategy and Analytics, Wake County Public Schools – Episode #123

When schools or school districts implement district wide reform initiatives, how can they accurately determine if those reform efforts are having the positive effects that school leaders had hoped? How, in other words, can they move beyond anecdotes or simple trend data and rigorously evaluate their district wide reform initiatives?

The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) — North Carolina’s largest school district — faced exactly those questions when it implemented a district-wide reform initiative. The initiative is called Multi-Tiered System of Supports, or MTSS, and is designed to increase academic achievement and reduce behavioral problems, although the specifics of MTSS are not the focus of our interview.

WCPSS was able to implement a rigorous evaluation of the initiative using a phased-in design, with 88 schools being randomly assigned to one of two groups: One group of 44 schools implemented MTSS first, while the other group of 44 schools will implement it two years later. That allowed district leaders to compare the outcomes for children in each set of schools to determine the impact of the MTSS initiative.

To learn more, we’re joined by Matthew Lenard. He has served as Director of Data Strategy and Analytics for WCPSS since 2012 and is the co-lead researcher on the MTSS evaluation.