How HHS’s Data Science CoLab catalyzes employee innovation: An interview with Will Yang, CoLab Director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Episode #166

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently launched a pilot version of a new initiative called the Data Science CoLab, an eight-week-long data science training program. The first class, which kicked off in October 2017, included 25 employees from different agencies within HHS and with different levels of knowledge about using data. Participants applied to work on a specific data project that they proposed. The initiative builds on related HHS innovation initiatives, including the IDEA Lab and the Ignite Accelerator program.

To learn more, we are joined by Will Yang. He has been an Innovation and Design Consultant at HHS for more than five years and now leads the CoLab.

Additional resource: A recent FedScoop article discusses Will Yang’s reflections on the first cohort of the CoLab [click here].

Related interview: An earlier Gov Innovator podcast interview with Bryan Sivak, then CTO of HHS, discusses implementing a department-wide innovation strategy [click here].

Wins for data and evidence-based policy in the bipartisan budget deal: An interview with Nick Hart, Bipartisan Policy Center – Episode #165

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, passed by Congress and signed by the President on February 9th, 2018, contains several noteworthy bright spots in the use of data and evidence-based policy. Those wins suggest there is continuing bipartisan support in Washington for using evidence, data and innovation to improve the results and cost-effectiveness of Federal programs and policies.

To walk us through the most notable examples, we are joined by Nick Hart (@NickRHart), the director of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).

Additional resources: For more information, see overviews by BPC [click here], Results for America [click here] and three posts from Feb.  9th from the Social Innovation Research Center [click here].

Why evaluation policies are useful to results-focused federal agencies: An interview with Naomi Goldstein, HHS, and Molly Irwin, DOL – Episode #164

A small but growing number of federal departments and agencies have created  evaluation policies that describe the principles that those agencies seek to promote when they conduct program evaluations. Those principles can include rigor, relevance, transparency, independence, and ethics.

To learn more about evaluation policies and why they are useful to federal agencies, we are joined by Naomi Goldstein, the Deputy Assistant Secretary within the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Molly Irwin, the Chief Evaluation Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Additional resources: ACF’s evaluation policy is available on the OPRE website [click here]. DOL’s evaluation policy is available on the department’s Chief Evaluation Office website.[click here].

How program managers can use random assignment (i.e., a lottery) to build evidence that can improve customer service: An interview with Matthew Notowidigdo, Northwestern University – Episode #163

How can program managers within public agencies — whether local, state or federal — use random assignment (in other words, a lottery) within programs to build evidence that can strengthen results and improve customer service?

A good example comes from South Carolina. Its Medicaid program is administered through Managed Care Organizations, which offer different health care plans to Medicaid beneficiaries. What happens when people don’t choose a plan? In those cases, the state has begun randomly assigning those individuals to plans. It’s not only a fair way to make those assignment decisions, but it also allows researchers to build credible evidence about the different Medicaid plans — and about the state’s star ratings of those plans.

To learn more, we are joined by Matthew Notowidigdo (@ProfNoto), an Associate Professor of Economics at Northwestern University and an affiliated professor at J-PAL. With Craig Garthwaite of Northwestern, he has been studying South Carolina’s Medicaid system as part of JPAL-North America’s State and Local Innovation Initiative.

Reforming the federal Experimental Sites initiative to better learn what works in higher ed: An interview with Amy Laitinen and Clare McCann, New America – Episode #162

As the new report “Putting the Experiment Back in the Experimental Sites Initiative” discusses, the U.S. Department of Education’s “Ex Sites” initiative — in place in one form or another since the mid-1980s — is designed to allow the Department to grant flexibility to institutions of higher education to test and evaluate potential federal policy changes, including around federal student aid rules. That gives policymakers the option to “try before you buy” (meaning test out policy changes in pilot form), something that is particularly valuable given that even small changes to student aid policy can affect millions of students. Yet the initiative has been underutilized as a learning tool. The report provides recommendations for fixing that.

To learn more, we are joined by two of the co-authors, Amy Laitinen (@amylaitinen1) and Clare McCann (@claremccann), who are respectively the director and deputy director for higher education with the Education Policy program at New America.

Insights from a leading researcher-practitioner partnership, between Stanford University and San Francisco’s school district: An interview with Laura Wentworth, California Education Partners – Episode #161

The partnership between Stanford University and the San Francisco Unified School District is one of the best examples of a partnership between a university and a school district. Launched in 2009, the partnership matches researchers from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education with district leaders to create research projects to directly inform the school district’s work in terms of policies, practice and scholarship to maximize student outcomes.

To learn more, we are joined by Laura Wentworth (@laurawent). Since 2009 she has worked for California Education Partners as the director of the partnership. Ed Partners is the third party organization that supports collaboration in the education sector across California. Laura is a former public school teacher and earned her PhD in administration and policy analysis in education from Stanford.

A primer on the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking’s recommendations: An interview with Nick Hart, Bipartisan Policy Center – Episode #160

While Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on much these days, there was a bright spot for bipartisanship recently: Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray joined together to praise the recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP), which Ryan and Murray launched last year. The Commission was co-chaired by Katharine Abraham of the University of Maryland and Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.

Some of the Commission’s key recommendations focus on making the most of the data the government already collects by giving qualified researchers—including academics as well as evaluation experts within government—greater access to data from government programs and surveys. At the same time, the CEP calls for strengthening privacy protections to ensure that those data are not misused. It also recommends ways that departments can increase their evidence capacity, meaning their ability to use and build evidence about what works.

To learn more, we are joined by Nick Hart (@NickrHart) who served as the Policy and Research Director for the Commission. Today he is the director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative.

Strategies to sustain program impacts for children and adolescents: An interview with Greg Duncan, Professor, University of California, Irvine – Episode #159

Many interventions that aim to increase the cognitive or socioemotional skills of children and adolescents have shown positive results, but far too often their impacts quickly disappear as children get older. Some programs, in contrast, have shown longer-lasting effects. In a new study published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Greg Duncan and his co-authors set out to identify the key features of interventions that can be expected to sustain persistently beneficial program impacts. They include:

  • Skill building: Identifying key skills and building them in an intervention, producing impacts into the future. That might include analytical thinking, delayed gratification delay or grit
  • Foot in the door: Designing the right intervention at the right time to help a child or adolescent through a period of risk or opportunity, such as interventions that keep young people from repeating grades.
  • Sustaining environments: Providing additional interventions that build on the gains of the initial intervention, essentially creating “recharging stations” to sustain initial gains.

To learn more, we are joined by Greg Duncan. He is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine.

Related interviews: Also see Greg Duncan’s interviews on how states can optimize their pre-K programs [click here] and how successful school systems are closing achievement gaps [click here].

The use of impact bonds around the world: An interview with Emily Gustafsson-Wright, Fellow, Center for Universal Education, The Brookings Institution – Episode #158

Social Impact Bonds, also called Pay for Success projects in the U.S., draw on private sources of capital to fund preventive services, with governments acting as the outcome funders, paying back the money with a profit if specific targets are met. The approach started in the U.K. and is now being used in many different countries. A related strategy has also been created — Development Impact Bonds — that, as the name suggests, are primarily used in developing countries. They are used to social interventions and involve third parties, such as a donor agencies or a foundations, as the outcome funders, rather than governments. Overall, an estimated $200 million in upfront private capital has been leveraged by impact bonds for social services worldwide over the last six years, an amount that is expected to triple by 2020.

To learn more about global trends in impact bonds, we are joined by Emily Gustafsson-Wright (@EGWBrookings), a Fellow at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. She is the co-author of the recent report, The Potential and Limitations of Impact Bonds: Lessons from the First Five Years of Experience Worldwide.

How states can use ESSA to focus education spending on what works: An interview with Tom Kane, Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education – Episode #157

The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was enacted in December 2015. ESSA gives states more opportunities to design their own educational systems, while also encouraging and sometimes requiring them to use evidence-based approaches that can help improve student outcomes.

Our guest today, Thomas Kane, joins us for part two of our conversation about how states can use ESSA to focus education spending on what works. Our earlier conversation on the podcast focused on how states can use “efficacy networks” to test strategies for school improvement. Today we focus on another important strategy for state education leaders. Tom Kane is a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard.