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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Using Career Academies to help disadvantaged students: An interview with Jim Kemple, Executive Director, Research Alliance for New York City Schools – Episode #76

Career Academies are one of the biggest success stories among interventions designed to improve outcomes for high school-aged disadvantaged students. A rigorous evaluation, using a random-assignment design, showed that Career Academies boosted the earnings of participants by a sizable 11 percent in the eight years after graduation, with especially strong gains among young men. Moreover, the findings demonstrate the feasibility of improving labor market outcomes and school-to-work transitions without compromising academic standards or discouraging post-secondary education. Today several thousand schools have adopted the Career Academies approach across the nation.

To learn more, we’re joined by Jim Kemple, the founding Executive Director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University, a nonpartisan research center. He previously served as the Director of the K-12 Education Policy Area at MDRC where he served as the Principal Investigator for MDRC’s Career Academies Evaluation.

Web extra: Jim Kemple discusses two lessons for research from the Career Academies evaluation. [click here]

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Evidence-based policies that improve early-life health and wellbeing: An interview with Janet Currie, Professor, Princeton University – Episode #75

What early-childhood interventions have been shown by rigorous research to have lasting impacts on people’s health and wellbeing? To explore that question, we’re joined by Janet Currie, a leading expert on early-childhood interventions, including Head Start. She is a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and the director of Princeton’s Center for Health and Well Being. Her recent co-authored survey article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management focuses on the early-life origins of people’s well being.

Topics covered in our discussion include WIC, home visiting programs, early-childhood programs including Head Start, the importance of early health on later life outcomes, and advice for policymakers about designing programs focused on early-life outcomes.

Web extra: Janet Currie discusses what she sees as a key gap in researchers’ abilities to understand the influences of early-life wellbeing: the lack of nationally representative data on children between birth and when they start school. [click here]

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Public sector innovation teams around the world: An interview with Jo Casebourne, Director of Public and Social Innovation, NESTA – Episode #74

How can city, regional or national governments use innovation initiatives – teams, units or funds – to catalyze innovation in the public sector? To gain insights into that question, we’re joined by Jo Casebourne (@jocasebourne), the Director of Public and Social Innovation at NESTA, the British innovation nonprofit. A recent report by NESTA and Bloomberg Philanthropies, called i-teams, presents case studies of 20 innovation initiatives around the world.

Those initiatives include five in the U.S.: the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund at the U.S. Department of Education, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, the New Orleans Innovation Delivery Team and two in New York City: the Center for Economic Development in the Mayor’s Office and the Innovation Zone (iZone) in the city’s Department of Education.

In the interview, Jo Casebourne discusses four focus areas of different innovation teams:

  • Creating solutions to solve specific challenges (e.g., UK Behavioral Insights Team)
  • Engaging citizens, non-profits and businesses to find new ideas (e.g., Seoul Innovation Bureau)
  • Transforming the processes, skills and culture of government (e.g., PS21 in Singapore)
  • Achieving wider policy and systems change (e.g., New York City Innovation Zone)
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