Improving student outcomes by giving parents detailed information about their child’s academic progress: An interview with Peter Bergman, Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University – Episode #116

Can regular, detailed information sent to parents about their students’ progress lead to improved student achievement? That question was put to the test by in a field experiment in the Los Angeles school system in which parents were given information by text, phone or email about their children’s missing assignments. The results for high school students show surprisingly large effects and suggest that this type of relatively low cost intervention may have effects on student achievement that are similar to much more costly and intensive interventions.

To learn more, we’re joined by the study’s author, Peter Bergman (@peterbergman_). He is an professor of economics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. His research uses randomized controlled trials to find low-cost, scalable interventions that improve education outcomes.

Las Vegas’s data-driven effort to improve traffic safety at its most dangerous intersections: An interview with Betsy Fretwell, City Manager, City of Las Vegas – Episode #115

Today, results-focused cities are using data to improve city services, boost the quality of life, and literally save lives. The City of Las Vegas has gained a reputation for its data-focused approach to addressing important city challenges. A good example is its effort to reduce traffic accidents, first by focusing on reducing left turn crashes and later by focusing on the 50 most dangerous intersections. The results have been dramatic.

To learn more, we are joined by Betsy Fretwell (@BetsyFretwell), the City Manager of Las Vegas. She has been in that role since 2009, overseeing a city workforce of nearly 3,000 and a budget of $1.2 billion per year. She has won several awards for her work, including a National Public Service Award.

Insights from the City of New Orleans’ analytics unit, NOLAlytics, about using data to improve city services: An interview with Oliver Wise, Director, Office of Performance and Accountability, City of New Orleans – Episode #114

The City of New Orleans under Mayor Mitch Landrieu has gained a reputation as being one of the most innovative and data-driven city governments. An important element in those efforts is the Office of Performance and Accountability, launched in 2011. The mission of the office is to use data to set goals, track performance, and drive results across city government. In 2015, it launched an analytics unit called NOLAlytics that undertakes data-driven projects to improve city services.

To learn more, we are joined by Oliver Wise (@ojwise). He is the founding director of the Office of Performance and Accountability.

Improving health outcomes of older adults while reducing costs through the nursing-led Transitional Care Model: An interview with Mary Naylor, Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing – Episode #113

In the U.S., more than a third of elderly patients discharged from hospitals are re-admitted within 90 days, often needlessly. An intervention that is helping change that is the nursing-led Transitional Care Model (TCM), pioneered at the University of Pennsylvania. It been the focus of four large scale NIH-funded clinical trials, including three RCTs, all finding consistent positive health and economic effects, including reduced re-hospitalization and health care expenditures. The savings, in fact, are equivalent to about $10 billion if the approach were implemented nationwide. Today TCM is being used in a range of health systems in the U.S., although data suggest that the model’s uptake is sporadic and slow relative to its promise.

To learn more, we’re joined by the principal investigator of this research, Mary Naylor. She is a Professor in Gerontology and Director of the New Courtland Center for Transitions and Health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Our conversation covers the TCM model, the research findings, as well as some of the challenges of getting evidence-based innovations like the TCM into wider usage by practitioners.

Using randomized evaluations to address global poverty and other social policy challenges: An interview with Dean Karlan, Professor, Yale University, and President, Innovations for Poverty Action – Episode #112

KarlanAddressing the nation’s — and the world’s — biggest challenges will require learning and doing what works. A powerful tool for doing that is the randomized evaluation, also known as a randomized control trial (RCT). It is a tool that is increasingly being used in the U.S. and around the world. Well-designed and well-implemented RCTs can provide strong evidence about what works — not only whether a program works or not, but also which strategies within a program or policy work best.

As evaluation experts (including RCT proponents) will note, RCTs are one tool within public managers’ analytical tool boxes, along with performance measures, process evaluation, cost-benefit analysis or cost analysis, well-designed quasi-experiments and other approaches. The goal is to use the most rigorous method possible for the question at hand.

To learn more about the value of RCTs, as well as to address some of the concerns or criticisms of the approach, we are joined by Dean Karlan (@deankarlan), a leading expert in using randomized evaluations in social policy. He is a professor of economics at Yale University and the president and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a non-profit that has conducted over 500 evaluations in more than 50 countries to build evidence about effective solutions to global poverty problems. His most recent book, co-authored Jacob Appel, is titled, “More Than Good Intentions.”

Increasing diversity in the sciences through the Meyerhoff Scholars Program: An interview with Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Episode #111

HrabowskiThe Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is at the forefront of efforts to increase diversity among future leaders in the sciences. It was launched in 1988 to provide financial assistance, mentoring, advising, and research experience to African American undergraduate students committed to obtaining Ph.D. degrees in science, engineering and related fields. Today the application process is open to prospective undergraduate students of all backgrounds who plan to pursue doctoral study in the sciences or engineering and who are interested in the advancement of minorities in those fields. Since its launch, the program has graduated over 1,000 students. Alums have earned over 200 Ph.D.s, including over 40 M.D. Ph.D.s, and many other graduates are currently in Ph.D. programs.

To learn more, we are joined by one of the founders of the program, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who is today the President of UMBC. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including more than 20 honorary degrees and a profile on 60 Minutes. President Obama named him chair of his Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. His new book is titled, “Holding Fast to Dreams” and includes a chapter on Meyerhoff Scholars Program.

Web extras: President Hrabowski discusses the role of ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the program [click here] as well as some highlights in terms of results [click here]. (The evidence of effectiveness of the program is also reviewed in this 2011 journal article.) He also describes the importance of first-year student performance [click here]. And finally, he discusses the ongoing replication of the program at two other universities [click here].

How Allegheny County’s Data Warehouse is improving human services through integrated data: An interview with Erin Dalton, Allegheny County Department of Human Services – Episode #110

Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, is recognized as a leader in using data to improve the results of its human services programs. In particular, the county’s Department of Human Services (DHS) created its Data Warehouse in 1999. The initiative stated by consolidating its own internal human services data relating to topics such as behavioral health, child welfare and homeless services. Over time, the warehouse expanded to include data from other county agencies as well as the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

To learn more, we’re joined by Erin Dalton. She is the Deputy Director for the Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation within DHS.

Web extras: Erin Dalton discusses what beneficial capabilities are not possible if a county does not have integrated data [click here]. She also explains what new features of the Data Warehouse are being developed. [click here].

How Philadelphia became a leader in the use of data and evidence: An interview with Maia Jachimowicz, V.P. for Evidence-Based Policy, Results for America, and former policy director to Mayor Michael Nutter – Episode #109

Michael Nutter served as Mayor of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2016. During his eight years in office, the city became a leader in the use of data, evidence and evaluation to improve outcomes for city residents. In 2014, Governing Magazine named the Mayor one of the Public Officials of the Year, noting, “Philadelphia isn’t an easy place to govern. But Mayor Michael Nutter has undoubtedly made an outsized impact on the city, creating a Philadelphia that’s cleaner, safer, smarter and more fiscally sound than the city he began leading in 2008.”

To gain insights into some of the steps the city took to be more results-focused and effective, we’re joined by Maia Jachimowicz. She served as Deputy Director for Policy and, starting in 2013, as Policy Director for the Mayor until 2016. She recently became ‎Vice President for Evidence-Based Policy at the nonprofit Results for America.

Web extra: Maia Jachimowicz provides an additional example of a city agency that became more results focused during the Nutter Administration. [click here]

The first-year effects of Mexico’s soda tax: An interview with Barry Popkin, Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health – Episode #108

Can a tax on sugary drinks reduce consumption and therefore fight obesity? The nation of Mexico, which has similarly high rates of obesity as the United States, is putting that question to the test. In 2013, Mexican lawmakers passed an excise tax on sugary drinks of 1 peso (about 8 cents) per liter, which is about a 10 percent tax. It also passed a tax on junk food.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal examines the effects on purchases of beverages in Mexico during the first year after implementation of the tax. To learn more, we’re joined by one of the articles co-authors, Barry Popkin. He is a Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health.

This is the second interview in our two-part series about Mexico’s soda tax. In part one, I spoke with Tina Rosenberg about how the tax came about.

Using behavioral insights to design smarter school lunchrooms: An interview with David Just, Co-Director, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs – Episode #107

 How can schools use low-cost solutions to help children make healthier food choices? David Just (@DavidJust1) is an expert on that topic. An economist by training, he is a professor at Cornell University and co-director, with Brian Wansink, of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center). His research has included dozens of field and lab experiments that identify the subtle factors in the environment that can lead both children and adults to make the healthier food choices.

Further resources: For an interactive summary of “nudges” that can be used to create smarter lunchrooms, see this op-chart in the New York Times, co-created by David Just. You can also check out the Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment created by the BEN Center.