J-PAL North America and Results for America launch support for state and local leaders to evaluate programs using federal recovery dollars
As state and local leaders leverage federal relief funding to invest in their communities, a new program will support these governments in using data, evaluation, and evidence to advance effective and equitable government programming for generations to come.
J-PAL North America, a research center in MIT’s department of economics, and Results for America, a nonprofit dedicated to helping policymakers harness the power of data and evidence, are collaborating to equip state and local leaders to use evaluation and evidence in their decision-making. The program—titled Leveraging Evaluation and Evidence for Equitable Recovery (LEVER)—addresses challenges that many governments face as they look to advance economic mobility and racial equity in the wake of Covid-19. Over the next two years, LEVER will provide a suite of resources, training, and evaluation design services to prepare state and local government agencies to rigorously evaluate their own programs and to use existing evidence in developing programs and policies using federal recovery dollars.
State and local governments have worked tirelessly to build resilience in the face of the economic and public health repercussions of Covid-19 over the past two years. Federal funds—such as the $350 billion available from American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) and the $1.2 trillion available from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)— have been critical resources in these efforts, catalyzing a once-in-a-generation opportunity for state and local governments to invest in their communities. From local rental assistance and state-wide tutoring programs to sector-based job training, governments have found themselves in the midst of a historic opportunity to fund evidence-based approaches that advance economic mobility and racial equity.
“We know that evaluation and evidence use are critical to sustain economic recovery for states and localities across the United States,” shared Vincent Quan, co-executive director of J-PAL North America. “But we also know that leveraging these tools to guide policy is easier said than done. As two experienced organizations in evidence-based policymaking, Results for America and J-PAL North America are ready to meet jurisdictions where they are and support them in this effort.”
Several state and local governments have already allocated dollars to evaluate such efforts according to the American Rescue Plan Data and Evidence Dashboard created by Results for America and Mathematica. But without further investment in building evaluation capacity within state and local agencies, the federal funds infused in communities across the United States will run out without a chance for governments to know the potentially transformative nature of these investments.
“These ARP funds present a unique opportunity for state and local governments to invest in evidence-based solutions that can help advance economic mobility and racial equity,” said David Medina, COO and co-founder at Results for America. "It is critically important for state and local governments to develop evaluation policies and to conduct evaluations of these ARP investments aligned with those policies to ensure that taxpayer dollars are directed toward what works.”
Many state and local governments face barriers to effectively generate and use rigorous evidence. For example, while building trusted long-term partnerships with academic researchers can be incredibly powerful, it can be hard to know where to find the right connection. What’s more, a lack of agency-wide policies around evaluation can make it difficult to prioritize internal staff time, data infrastructure, and planning for this work. LEVER seeks to address these challenges.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with great collaborators in state and local government agencies. They have a wealth of institutional expertise and are excited to use data and evaluation to build evidence and improve the effectiveness of their programs and policies,” said Day Manoli, State and Local Innovation Initiative co-chair at J-PAL North America and associate professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “Partner agencies have always faced multiple obstacles when going through an evaluation. By providing critical assistance to overcome these obstacles, LEVER will accelerate evidence building to help states and localities address social challenges, advance economic mobility, and improve racial equity.”
Governments participating in LEVER will come away with a basic understanding of evaluation, knowledge of what it takes to build evidence and evaluation capacity, and the opportunity to access tailored support to develop their own rigorous evaluations.
LEVER provides the following opportunities, which are tailored to the unique needs of governments with varying levels of familiarity with data and evaluation.
- Workshops: short virtual events, aimed at government leaders and staff with interest but relatively limited experience with evaluation. Through these workshops, state and local leaders will learn basic concepts and actionable best practices for building evidence and evaluation capacity, enabling them to develop key foundations for evaluation, like data use and measurement, community engagement, and partnership building.
- Training sprints: longer-term multi-week virtual engagements, aimed at teams of government leaders with some experience or capacity for evaluation. Through sprints, governments will be prepared to: (1) develop and/or strengthen their evaluation policies and (2) evaluate the ambitious new programs and initiatives upon which federal recovery funding is spent.
- Evaluation Incubators: the most in-depth support for government agencies as they turn ideas into well-designed randomized evaluations of social programs. Through an Evaluation Incubator, governments receive training, one-on-one technical assistance, flexible funding, and connections to academic researchers to develop evaluations.
“Results for America’s research has found a wide gap between state and local government’s investment in pilot programs and evaluation of those programs,” said Zachary Markovits, vice president and local practice lead at Results for America. “Through LEVER, we are excited to help decision-makers better invest federal funds in both evidence-based solutions and rigorous evaluation of innovative programs. We look forward to sharing lessons learned through this project so that state and local governments can leverage proven solutions to improve the lives of residents for years to come.”
J-PAL North America and Results for America will host the first event, a two-part workshop covering the foundations of evidence and evaluation, on May 16 and 23. Participants will identify strengths and opportunities to use evidence and evaluation, connect with peers from other governments, and develop action plans for building evaluation capacity. Interested agencies can register today on the LEVER website, where they can also learn more about each offering and sign up to hear further details about upcoming opportunities.