The New Hope anti-poverty initiative in Milwaukee: An interview with Aletha Huston, Professor, University of Texas at Austin

 This year marks 20 year since the launch of the New Hope Project, an anti-poverty initiative that was implemented in two inner-city areas in Milwaukee from 1994 to 1998. The guiding principle of this time-limited demonstration project was that anyone who works full time should not be poor. It offered low-income people who were willing to work full time several benefits, including:

  • an earnings supplement to raise their incomes above the poverty level;
  • subsidized health insurance;
  • subsidized child care;
  • and, for people who had difficulty finding full-time work, a referral to a wage-paying community service job.

The program had an independent, rigorous evaluation by MDRC using a large-scale random assignment study, including five-year and eight-year follow-ups.

To tell us about the key findings from New Hope for adults and children — as well as its significance for policymakers and other social service leaders today – we’re joined by Aletha Huston. She’s a Professor of Child Development at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading expert in understanding the effects of poverty and social policies on children. She was the lead author of the five year impact study of New Hope and, with Greg Duncan and Thomas Weisner, is the co-author of the book Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and Their Children.

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Tiered-evidence grant programs: A video overview

A growing trend government at the Federal level is the use of an outcome-focused and evidence-based grant design called tiered-evidence grants — also known as innovation funds. This type of grant program considers the evidence supporting a practice’s efficacy when determining which practices to fund. It also use staged funding, with more money awarded to practices with better evidence. Examples include:

  • Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) at USAID, which is designed to find, test and scale ideas that could radically improve global prosperity.
  • The Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) at the Department of Education, which invests in high-impact, potentially transformative education interventions, ranging from new ideas with significant potential to those with strong evidence of effectiveness that are ready to be scaled.
  • The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (Home Visiting) at HHS, which uses trained professionals to provide support to vulnerable parents in order to improve health and development outcomes for at-risk children. HHS also has the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that provides funds to test innovative approaches and strategies to teen pregnancy prevention.
  • The Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service, which fosters private and public collaborations that identify, evaluate, and expand promising nonprofits to address economic opportunity, youth development, and health.
  • The Workforce Innovation Fund at the Department of Labor, which cultivates and tests innovative approaches to workforce training and encourages the replication of evidence-based practices in workforce development.

This 7-minute video webinar provides an overview of tiered-evidence grant programs.

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Performance management & program evaluation: A video overview

Performance management and program evaluation are two fundamental analytical tools for agency leaders and program managers at the federal, state and local levels. They are different tools with different strengths and weaknesses, but they are complementary approaches. Too often within public agencies, though, performance and evaluation staffs are siloed and not working closely together to create synergies between these tools.

This video overview is designed to help public leaders and program managers to better understand performance management and program evaluation — their differences and their synergies – so they can more closely integrate these efforts.

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The role of a Chief Evaluation Officer: An interview with Demetra Nightingale, Chief Evaluation Officer, U.S. Department of Labor

 For public agencies at the federal, state or local levels that want to strengthen their evaluation capacity, creating a Chief Evaluation Officer role can be an important step. A leading example comes from the U.S. Department of Labor. The Chief Evaluation Officer position was created within the Department in 2010 in order to coordinate the Department’s evaluation agenda and work with the 17 agencies within the Department to design and implement evaluations. Today, the office has a staff of about ten people. It is led by Demetra Nightingale who has served as the Chief Evaluation Officer since 2011. The office is guided by a the Department of Labor’s Evaluation Policy, which emphasizes rigor, relevance, transparency, independence and ethics.

Demetra Nightingale join us to discuss the role that she and her office play. A researcher, evaluator and social policy expert, she was appointed as Chief Evaluation Officer after a 29 year career at the Urban Institute.

Web extra: Demetra Nightingale describes the new Data Analytics Unit within her office. [click here].

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Using “C-Stat” in Colorado to drive results-focused human services: An interview with Ki’i Powell, Performance Management Director, Colorado Dept. of Human Services

C-Stat is a strategic management strategy launched in 2012 by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) under Executive Director Reggie Bicha, serving under Governor John Hickenlooper. It is a tool that the Department uses to examine what’s working and what needs improvement. In particular, each of the five offices within the Department collects performance data on a regular basis and examines those data in monthly C-Stat meetings with the Executive Director and his executive team.

To learn more, we’re joined by Ki’i Powell who is the Performance Management Director at CDHS and oversees the day to day operations of C-Stat.

Web extras: Ki’i Powell talks about who is in the room for C-Stat meetings and what is the layout of the room. [click here]. (You can also see a diagram of the room layout here.) She also discusses a specific example of how C-Stat helped drive change on an important issue: increasing family contact with youth who are in correctional facilities. [click here]

Additional resource: In a related Gov Innovator interview, CDHS Executive Director Reggie Bicha speaks about KidStat, which he launched in his previous role as Secretary of the Department of Children and Families in Wisconsin. [click here]

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Transforming mission and support services in government: An interview with Judy England-Joseph, Partnership for Public Service

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service recently released a report, co-sponsored with Deloitte, titled Helping Government Deliver: Transforming Mission and Support Services. It describes how agencies and jurisdictions are using consolidated and shared services to improve efficiency, results and customer service. In particular, the report discusses how public leaders can move beyond the familiar model of sharing support functions for a single line of business (e.g., payroll or human resources to sharing multiple support and mission-critical functions within an entire department and, in some cases, across departments.

To learn more, we’re joined by the report’s project lead, Judy England-Joseph. As background to the interview, the report describes a continuum of shared services delivery that includes:

  • Single line of business: Sharing a single support function across an agency, such as human capital, IT, financial management or accounting (what most agencies that share services do today)
  • Multiple lines of business: Sharing multiple support functions across an agency (we discuss NASA’s Shared Services Center as an example)
  • Intra-agency mission services: Sharing support and mission services across an agency (we discuss the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management as an example)
  • Interagency mission services: Sharing support and mission services across different agencies or jurisdictions (we discuss the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County as an example)
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Using prize competitions to spur innovation in government: An interview with Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program Executive, NASA

In 2011, President Obama signed into the law the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which granted all federal agencies broad authority to conduct prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions. To date, nearly 300 prize competitions have been implemented by 45 agencies through the website One of the leaders in conducing prize competitions has been NASA.

To learn more, we’re joined by Jenn Gustetic (@jenngustetic) from NASA. She’s the Prizes and Challenges Program Executive within the office of the Chief Technologist. Our discussion covers a recent example of how NASA has used prize competitions to solve an important challenge for the agency; the benefits of using prize competitions; the types of prizes used; and an overview of NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation.

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Louisville’s performance initiatives, including LouieStat, at year three: An interview with Theresa Reno Weber, Chief of Performance Improvement, City of Louisville

The City of Louisville is entering year three of its data-driven performance improvement initiatives under Mayor Greg Fisher, such as LouieStat that launched in January 2012. These efforts have gotten national attention. The mayor, for example, was recently recently named one of Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year for his focus on improving the performance of city government. As the magazine noted, “At the heart of his performance efforts is a focus on data.”

We get an update on these initiatives from the city’s Chief of Performance Improvement, Theresa Reno-Weber (@RenoWeber). The interview discusses:

  • LouieStat at year three: Louisville’s performance management system for metro government, called LouieStat, now includes 19 departments as well as one cross-functional, issue based “stat” program called VAPStat, which focuses on reducing vacant and abandoned properties.
  • Problem-solving teams: For important issues that arise through the LouieStat process that require focused attention from issue experts, Louisville uses cross-functional teams created to address particular challenges. An example is the team created to improve a specific aspect of Emergency Management Services (EMS): reducing ambulance turnout times, meaning the time from patient drop off at the hospital to being ready for the next run. The team’s work, in just a four months, resulted in efficient gains worth $1.5 million, equivalent to two extra ambulances in service in the city.

For more background on Louisville’s performance initiatives, see Theresa Reno-Weber’s previous interview on the blog from 2013.

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Rigorous program evaluation on a budget: An interview with Jon Baron, President, Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy

How can public leaders and program managers gain rigorous, useful insights into program effectiveness at a modest cost? A report by the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, “Rigorous Program Evaluations on a Budget,” offers suggestions.

As the report discusses, low-cost, high quality impact evaluation involves two key elements. The first is building random assignment evaluations into policies (e.g., using a lottery if there aren’t funds to serve everyone to create program and control groups). The second is using existing administrative data (data that a program is already producing) on outcomes of interest, so you can avoid the cost of collecting new data.

To learn more, we’re joined by Jon Baron, the President of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy. Our interview includes an overview of three programs evaluated with low-cost randomized controlled trials: New York City’s teacher bonus program; the Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) System in South Carolina; and Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Program.

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Testing whether text messages improve the effectiveness of communication with citizens: An interview with Donald Green, Professor, Columbia University

 Can text messages be a useful and effective way for public agencies to communicate with citizens? If so, what elements of message design, including personalization (using people’s names), are most effective? And more broadly, how can public leaders at the local, state or federal levels use rapid and low experiments to pilot potential operational improvements to their programs or agencies and rigorously test if they work?

We examine these questions with Donald Green, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and a leading expert in the design and implementation of field experiments. He is the co-author of a recent article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management about a large randomized trial conducted in England in 2012 to test the impact of different text messages on repayment rates for people who had delinquent fines owed to the government. The experiment was coordinated by the UK Behavioral Insights Team and an academic advisory panel, including Professor Green. 

Web extra: Donald Green discusses the potential to strengthen partnerships between academic experts and government agencies looking to design and test ways to improve their operations. [click here]

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