Using behavioral insights to improve government performance: An interview with Maya Shankar, Chair, White House Social and Behavioral Science Team – Episode #95

On September 15th, 2015, President Obama issued an Executive Order encouraging federal agencies to apply behavioral insights in their programs, policies, and operations. On the same day, the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST) released its first annual report that details the results of 15 different collaborative projects with agencies to apply insights from behavioral economics and other behavioral sciences to improve program outcomes and help tackle agency challenges.

To highlight some lessons from this work for public leaders at the federal, state and local levels, we’re joined by Maya Shankar. She is the Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and leads the SBST.

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How to design performance measures to better measure impact: An interview with Peter Schochet, Senior Fellow, Mathematica Policy Research – Episode #94

 How can public leaders and program managers track the performance of different sites within a program in a way that reflects impact — i.e., the value added of each site? The most rigorous approach is to run a rigorous program evaluation, such as a randomized controlled trial, by site, but that type of evaluation is not always feasible. Another approach (the most common one) is to use performance measures, since they are low-cost and easy to implement, but there’s a downside: They aren’t necessarily good indicators of impact. That’s because the performance of sites are effected by local conditions and demographics, not just program quality.

Our interview focuses on public leaders can design performance measures to better reflect impact, including through the use of regression-adjusted performance measures — that is, measures that statistically control for factors that aren’t related to program quality. We get insights from Peter Schochet. He’s a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, a leading authority on evaluation methodology, and the co-author of an article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management on this topic.

In the interview, he describes how regression-adjusted performance measures can be useful, especially if there is good baseline data, measures are not overly complex and align well with the most relevant outcomes of interest, and (when relevant) if there is longer-term follow-up data.

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Strengthening a culture of data-driven decision making: An interview with Carter Hewgley, Enterprise Analytics Division Director, FEMA – Episode #93

How can public agencies strengthen a culture of data-driven decision making? We explore that question with Carter Hewgley, the Enterprise Analytics Division Director at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He has been leading data-driven initiatives at the local, state and federal levels for the past ten years. In 2011, he began leading FEMAStat, FEMA’s version of PerformanceStat, with its data-driven conversations among the agency’s executives. Today he leads the division at FEMA that helps build analytical capability across the agency.

Web extras: Carter Hewgley discusses why additional analytical capability, beyond the “stat” approach is also useful. [click here] He also discusses FEMA’s efforts to empower employees with data, ranging from data on disaster responses by FEMA to internal processes such as tracking hiring. [click here]

Photo: Carter Hewgley providing on-site registration after a tornado in Moore, Okla., 2013. Credit: FEMA.
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Connecting decision makers with high-quality research through the What Works Clearinghouse: An interview with Joy Lesnick of the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education – Episode #92

How can public agencies help decision makers at the state and local levels to make evidence-based decisions? A useful strategy is to create a clearinghouse of credible research about what works. A leading example is the What Works Clearinghouse (@WhatWorksED), run by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education. Launched in 2002, it reviews the research on the different programs, products, practices, and policies in education, with about 11,000 studies reviewed so far. It then summarizes high-quality research to help decision makers know what works in education.

To learn more, we’re joined by Joy Lesnick who oversees the work of the Clearinghouse in her role as an Acting Commissioner within IES.

Web extras: Joy Lesnick discusses the resources it takes to run the What Works Clearinghouse. [click here] She also provides suggestions for other agencies that may be considering launching a clearinghouse. [click here]

Additional resources: Check out other Federal clearinghouses, including from DOL, DOJ, HHS and SAMHSA. Also, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative has created a Clearinghouse Database that combines the findings of eight national research clearinghouses.

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HUD’s Research Roadmap: An interview with Katherine O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Episode #91

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) invests significant resources ($237 million since 2009) in research and evaluation to improve the evidence base for policymaking and the efficiency and effectiveness of existing policies. In 2008, however, a National Academy of Sciences report called HUD’s research-agenda setting process too insular and too short-term focused. As a result, the Department set out in 2011 to create a new way of setting its research agenda. It launched a year-long research planning process to identify the most policy-relevant and timely research questions in the fields of housing and economic development with extensive input from the academic community, practitioners implementing programs and policymakers. The result of this effort is a strategic plan — the Research Roadmap — released in 2013 that highlights research projects that HUD aims to undertake over the next five years. In doing so, HUD’s approach offers a collaborative model for other public agencies in setting their research agendas.

To learn more, we’re joined by Katherine O’Regan, the Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at HUD, where she has served since 2014. An economist by training, she was previously a Professor at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Web extra: Katherine O’Regan discusses the next steps for the Research Roadmap. [click here]

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Exploring how outstanding public executives make tough decisions: An interview with Ronald Sanders, Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton – Episode #90

 How do outstanding senior government executives make tough decisions? Recent exploratory research suggests that these leaders need to be “ambidextrous,” meaning skilled at gathering input and conducting thorough analysis of complex decisions, while at the same time willing to make tough and courageous decisions. Moreover, these executives also appear to have a “bias for action,” meaning leaning towards decisiveness in decision-making even at the risk of not having enough information.

These findings come from a recent Harvard Kennedy School Working Paper, “‘I Won’t Back Down?’: Complexity and Courage in U.S. Federal Executive Decision-Making” by Steven Kelman, Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit and Sarah Taylor.

To learn more, we’re joined by one of the co-authors, Ronald Sanders, a Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton. Previously he served for 37 years in the federal government, 20 of which were in senior executive positions, including as Associate Director of National Intelligence.

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Using the Balanced Scorecard in the public sector: An interview with Kenneth Thompson, Professor, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University – Episode #89

 The Balanced Scorecard was introduced by Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan and management consultant David Norton in a 1992 Harvard Business Review article. It quickly became one of the most well-known approaches to performance management in the private sector. It was developed out of a concern that companies were placing too much emphasis on short-term financial indicators, without enough attention to longer-term drivers of organizational success. As a result, the Balanced Scorecard tracks indicators in four categories: 1) financial; 2) customer (or stakeholder) satisfaction; 3) internal processes; and 4) learning and growth.

Since then, many government agencies have adopted the balanced scorecard as well. To learn more, we’re joined by a leading expert, Kenneth Thompson, a professor of management at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University. He is the co-author, with Nicholas Mathys, of an IBM Center for the Business of Government report focused on applying the Balanced Scorecard to government agencies. As the authors explain, the Balanced Scorecard is a tool “for translating an organization’s strategy into action through the development of performance objectives and measures in order to fulfill its mission.”

Web extras: Kenneth Thompson discusses the four traditional components of the Balanced Scorecard, plus he adds a suggested additional fifth component. [click here] Also, he provides the example of Motorola to explain the motivation behind the Balanced Scorecard. [click here]

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Implementing a turnaround strategy at DOL: An interview with Seth Harris, former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor – Episode #88

The U.S. Department of Labor is a useful case study of a large public-sector organization that successfully strengthened a culture of results, data, learning and evidence. In doing so, it improved its performance on key outcomes. Moreover, by 2013, DOL had the highest score among cabinet agencies in terms of the use of performance information — and the only cabinet agency to see a statistically significant increase on this measure between 2007 and 2013. This progress reflects a concerted effort by the Department to use performance management, data and rigorous program evaluation to improve results.

An important leader in this effort was Seth Harris (@MrSethHarris), who served as Deputy Secretary of Labor from 2009 to 2014 and as Acting Secretary in 2013. He joins us to discuss key elements of DOL’s turnaround strategy.

Web extra: Seth Harris discusses the results of DOL’s performance turnaround efforts. [click here]

Related interview: To learn more about DOL’s efforts to help operating agencies build evidence around important programmatic and policy questions, see the Gov Innovator interview with Demetra Nightingale, DOL’s Chief Evaluation Officer. [click here]

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Insights from the FTC about promoting employee engagement: An interview with David Robbins, Executive Director, Federal Trade Commission – Episode #87

How can public agencies at the federal, state or local levels strengthen employee engagement? We get insights from the Federal Trade Commission. Since 2010, the FTC has been among the top three federal agencies in terms of employee engagement, according to the Employee Engagement Index, based on factors that facilitate employee engagement such as effective leadership and supervision, as well as work that provides meaning to employees. The index uses data from the Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVP) of nearly 400,000 federal workers in 37 agencies.

To learn more about what the FTC does to build and maintain strong employee engagement, we’re joined by David Robbins, the Executive Director. In his role, which reports directly to the Chairwoman, he oversees the administration and management of the agency. As background, the FTC has three main bureaus (consumer protection, competition, and economics) and about 1,200 employees. It has a dual mission to protect consumers and promote competition.

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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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