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.
It is useful to note, however, that if you can’t restructure an existing grant program to add in tiers — or build tiers into a new grant program — there are alternative ways to integrate evidence into discretionary grant programs. Adding competitive preference points to a competition is an example. For instance, out of the (say) 100 points that applicants can receive in a competition, the RFP might specify that applicants can receive up to 3 points if they demonstrate that the approach they plan to use is backed by at least “moderate evidence” (which the RFP defines) and if they cite a published study. Or the RFP might say that applicants can receive up to 3 points if include an evaluation plan that would produce at least “moderate evidence” (again, defined in the RFP) on the back end. Preference points are ways that federal agencies can create incentives for applicants to apply evidence, build evidence, or both.
Be in touch if you’d like more information on any of these topics.