Using Pay for Success to fund early-childhood programs: An interview with Janis Dubno, Voices for Utah Children – Episode #86

How can a Pay for Success approach — also known as a Social Impact Bond — be used to finance evidence-based early-childhood programs? And what lessons have been learned so far about doing that?

To gain insights, we’re joined by Janis Dubno, a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Voices for Utah Children. A former investment banker, she helped design Salt Lake County’s social impact bond for early education and has authored several reports on applying Pay for Success to early-childhood interventions.

Web extra: Janis Dubno explains some of the broader reasons why public leaders may want to consider a Pay for Success approach. [click here]

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Closing the social-class achievement gap for first-generation college students: An interview with Nicole Stephens, Professor, Northwestern University – Episode #85

Can a brief, hour-long intervention significantly improve outcomes for first-generation college students? Research by Nicole Stephens and her colleagues shows that it can. She is a social and cultural psychologist and a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

As background, college students who do not have parents with four-year degrees — in other words, first-generation students — earn lower grades and encounter more obstacles to success in college, on average, than students with more advantaged parents. Innovative approaches can help close this social class achievement gap.

An important example comes from research by Professor Stephens and her co-authors published in the journal Psychological Science. Based on a rigorous research design using a randomized controlled trial, they find that a brief difference-education intervention (in the form of a student panel for incoming students) reduced the social-class achievement  gap, based on grade point, by 63% compared to students who participated in a similar panel that did not highlight students’ different backgrounds.

Web extra: Nicole Stephens discusses another brief social belonging intervention that also had sizable effects, studied by researchers Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen. [click here]

Note: Following our interview, this intervention was discussed in a New York Times article on first-generation college students. [click here]

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Using analytics to tackle tough agency challenges: An interview with Dean Silverman, former head of the IRS Office of Compliance Analytics – Episode #84

How can public agencies at the federal, state and local levels use analytics — including test and learn strategies — to tackle their toughest challenges? We get insights from Dean Silverman, the founder and former head of the IRS Office of Compliance Analytics (OCA), which launched in 2011.

Reporting directly to the IRS commissioner, the OCA’s mission is to improve compliance with tax laws and to make data analytics a key part of the IRS’s strategic decision-making. Its work led to billions of dollars in savings through fraud detection and reductions in improper payments. The OCA’s approach, though, is applicable well beyond the area of tax and finance, in terms of building analytical capacity within an agency; bridging silos between analytics, operations and IT; and using analytics to address key strategic challenges.

Dean Silverman lead the OCA for four years, until January, when his appointment expired.

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The importance of administrative data for learning what works in public policy: An interview with Raj Chetty, Professor, Harvard University – Episode #83

Why is administrative data, also known as big data, important for learning what works in public policy? And what steps can help the U.S. strengthen its data infrastructure for policy-relevant research? To gain insights, we’re joined by Raj Chetty for part 2 of our conversation. A Professor of Economics at Harvard University, his research combines empirical evidence (often using administrative data) and economic theory to help design more effective government policies.

As background, administrative data means the data collected by government agencies for program administration, regulatory or law enforcement purposes. Federal and state administrative data include detailed, useful information on labor market outcomes, health care, criminal justice, housing, and other important topics. Access to administrative data for research purposes – while carefully protecting privacy – can produce important insights about what works and how to improve public sector programs and policies. For further reading, a useful resource is the chapter Building Evidence with Administrative Data from the Analytical Perspectives section of the President’s 2016 Budget.

For part 1 of our conversation, on behavioral economics, click here.

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Cost-benefit analysis 101 for policymakers & public managers: An interview with Henry Levin, Professor, Columbia University – Episode #82

Knowing “what works” in policy is important, but so is knowing what policy alternatives cost. For instance, do the benefits of a certain program or intervention outweigh its costs? Or among two interventions designed to achieve the same goal (say, improving children’s reading ability), does one produce a given level of improvement at lower cost? Questions like these can be answered with cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis.

We get an overview of these topics from Henry Levin, one of the nation’s leading experts. He is a professor of economics and education at Teachers College at Columbia University and a professor emeritus at Stanford. He’s the co-author of the book Cost-Effectiveness Analysis: Methods and Applications.

Two key terms discussed in the interview are:

  • Cost-benefit analysis, which typically compares the cost of a single program to the value of the outcomes it achieves for taxpayers. (One can also compare the costs and benefits of multiple similar programs, which is called portfolio analysis.)
  • Cost-effectiveness analysis, which considers how much each program costs to achieve the same outcome.

Web extra: Henry Levin provides an example of how cost research helped catalyze policy change in New York City, using the example of CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), designed to increase graduation rates among community college students. [click here]

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New York City’s VendorStat initiative for social services: An interview with Swati Desai, Senior Fellow, Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York – Episode #81

DesaiHow can public agencies give contractors — such as social service providers — more flexibility to design their own strategies while also ensuring greater monitoring of, and accountability for, results? We examine New York City’s efforts to do just that in the area of welfare-to-work services through its VendorStat initiative.

Starting in the 2000s, welfare-to-work services in the city were provided under pay-for-performance contracts between the city (the Human Resources Administration or HRA) and nonprofit and for-profit service providers. Those providers are given a great deal of flexibility in terms of the approaches they can use to help clients get and keep jobs. At the same time, HRA closely monitors the operations and performance of those providers through VendorStat.

To learn more, we’re joined by Swati Desai, a former Executive Deputy Commissioner at HRA, who helped develop HRA’s performance management system. Today she is a senior fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York as well as an affiliated scholar with the Urban Institute.

Our interview focuses on how a city or other jurisdiction that uses contractors to provide services can advance the goals of flexibility and strong accountability. It is beyond the scope here to examine the broader question of whether New York City’s approach of using nonprofits and for-profits to provide services was effective or not, versus other alternatives.

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The nation’s first Pay for Success initiative for early education: An interview with Ben McAdams, Mayor, Salt Lake County – Episode #80

The first Pay for Success initiative (aka Social Impact Bond) focused on early childhood education in the U.S. was launched in 2013 in Salt Lake County, Utah. The initiative involves a $7 million investment in private capital to fund the expansion of the early education for at-risk children. The goal is to increase school readiness and academic performance among 3- and 4-year-olds and reduce the number of children who require special education and remedial services.

To learn more, we’re joined by a key player in setting up the initiative, Ben McAdams (@MayorBenMcAdams), the Mayor of Salt Lake County.

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New performance initiatives in Cincinnati city government: An interview with Chad Kenney, Chief Performance Officer, Office of Performance and Data Analytics – Episode #79

Cincinnati, under Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, has recently launched a set of new initiatives designed to strengthen city government performance and improve outcomes for residents. The initiatives include the introduction of citywide strategic goals, department head performance agreements and the launch of an innovation lab. Coming in June, the city will also launch CincyStat, the city’s PerformanceStat initiative.

To learn more, we’re joined by Chad Kenney who is the Chief Performance Officer under Harry Black, in the city’s Office of Performance and Data Analytics. Prior to his role in Cincinnati, Chad was the director of CitiStat in Baltimore.

Web extra: Chad Kenney describes the upcoming launch of CincyStat, the city’s PerformanceStat initiative [click here] and the city’s plan to implement outcome budgeting [click here].

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Improving public policy through behavioral economics: An interview with Raj Chetty, Professor, Harvard University – Episode #78

How can tools from the behavioral sciences, such as behavioral economics, improve the design and implementation of public policies? We examine that question with a leading economist, Raj Chetty of Harvard University. In his recent keynote speech at the American Economic Association meeting, he argued that insights from the behavioral sciences can expand the scope of tools that are available to policymakers — insights such as the importance of defaults, salience and loss aversion.

Professor Chetty has been widely recognized for his research that combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. This is Part One of our conversation.

For part 2 of our conversation, on the use of administrative data (or “big data”) for research on what works in public policy, click here.

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Insights for evidence-based grant making from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program: An interview with Evelyn Kappeler, Director of the Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Episode #77

An important advance in the effort to make grant programs more evidence focused has been the launch of “tiered-evidence” or “innovation fund” grant designs in the federal government. They focus resources on practices with strong evidence, while also promoting innovation. One of the first tiered-evidence grant programs to launch, in 2010, was the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program. It is designed to reduce teen pregnancy through the replication of evidence-based program models and through research and demonstration projects.

To get an overview of the TPP — with insights for public leaders who want to strengthen the use of evidence in other grant programs — we’re joined by Evelyn Kappeler. She is the Director of the Office of Adolescent Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she oversees the $110 million TPP.

Web extra: Evelyn Kappeler discusses the systematic review process the TPP uses to identify evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention approaches [click here] and also how the program measures grantees’ fidelity to the program models they are implementing [click here].

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