Build internal capacity to generate and use workforce evidence and data
As described in this series, states have used or plan to use funds to build internal capacity to perform program evaluations, connect government stakeholders with external researchers or both. States’ efforts, including prior to ARPA, demonstrate options for developing government capacity to evaluate programs and coordinate evidence-building activities. For example:
- Alabama lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 to create a Commission on the Evaluation of Services. Co-chaired by executive and legislative branch leaders, the commission evaluates the effectiveness of state services and advises the legislature and governor on program evaluation and resource allocation. In 2021, the commission reviewed state investments in medical provider shortages in rural, underserved areas.
- In 2021, Minnesota lawmakers created the Opiate Epidemic Response Advisory Council, which consults with the state Department of Management and Budget to select opioid grant projects that qualify for impact evaluations. The budget agency partners with grantees and other stakeholders, including external research advisors, to complete the evaluations. The advisory council and the budget agency then report project outcomes to the legislature, including the ability of programs to be scaled to achieve statewide results.
- New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee provides the Legislature with objective fiscal and policy analyses, recommendations and state agency oversight. As described in the second brief in this series, based on the commission’s recent report on the state’s post-pandemic workforce development needs, the Legislature dedicated $5 million to evidence-based reemployment case management, one of the programs reported to be effective in the policy report.
- Washington State Institute for Public Policy conducts nonpartisan research at the direction of the Legislature or board of directors. The institute works with legislators, legislative and state agency staff, and experts in the field to ensure that studies answer relevant policy questions. Researchers analyzed benefits and costs of employment counseling programs for individuals in the adult criminal justice community seeking employment.
Promote research partnerships through evaluation grants
States have also promoted partnerships through competitive grant programs that seek to build evidence for new and promising programs. Colorado and North Carolina have created innovation funds to pay for promising programs and pilot projects and to support research and evaluation to demonstrate their results.
For example, since 2017, Colorado’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting has awarded about $500,000 annually in grants to state agencies. Staff work with agencies to help programs build their evidence and progress along a continuum. North Carolina’s Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $500,000 to the Office of State Budget and Management to provide evidence-based and competitive grants to state agencies. Agencies may use grants to partner with research institutions to conduct research projects and evaluate whether programs are achieving the intended results.
Partner with external researchers to study program effectiveness
States regularly partner with academic, private or nonprofit research and policy organizations to study policy issues and evaluate programs. Policymakers can use ARPA funds to contract with external researchers to conduct research and address pressing policy questions.
North Carolina’s Office of Strategic Partnership develops relationships between state government, the state’s research institutions and philanthropic organizations. With philanthropic funding, the office hired an evidence advisor who works with state agencies to integrate evidence into decision-making. To foster collaboration between government and researchers, the office hosts a regular cross-sector webinar series called Monthly Connect on topics relevant to state government, research institutions, philanthropies and others.
State policymakers can learn from other states’ experiences with implementing evidence-informed practices by participating in convenings, joining peer learning networks or reading case studies on evidence-informed policymaking from NCSL and other nonpartisan organizations. For example, NCSL, in partnership with The Council of State Governments and The Policy Lab at Brown University, manages a multistate peer-learning network aimed at sharing best practices for generating and using evidence and data to inform policy decisions.
Partner with philanthropic and other policy resources to research and evaluate workforce development and other programs.
In addition to opportunities afforded under ARPA for program evaluation, states may also consider how other funded resources can support their evidence goals. Arnold Ventures’ Evidence-Based Policy team invites grant applications to conduct randomized controlled trials of social programs. Arnold Ventures funds the trials, and government or another entity funds the program’s delivery. The main goal in funding such trials is to build the body of programs rigorously shown to produce sizable, sustained effects on important life outcomes.
By using the best available evidence and research to inform these investments, policymakers can ensure federal funding is invested in the programs that are most likely to achieve positive results for workers and state economies. Partnerships with research, philanthropic and state policy organizations can help to guide decisions, strengthen government capacity to collect and use data and evidence, and build relationships that are critical to long-term sustainability.