Obama Administration’s “Evidence and Innovation Agenda” Continues

The White House is directing federal agencies to provide details of both their accomplishments over the past year and plans for the coming year toward implementing the administration’s “Evidence and Innovation Agenda.”

The requirements were included in a guidance memo telling agencies how to prepare their proposed budgets for the federal 2016 fiscal year. The information must be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this fall.

As part of their budget submissions, agencies must also tell OMB how they plan to embed evaluation and improvement in new and existing programs and how they plan to use existing administrative data for statistical purposes.

Key Components of the Evidence and Innovation Agenda

The administration’s “Evidence and Innovation Agenda,” described more fully in another memo OMB sent to agencies last year, includes several components:

  • Refocusing Existing Budgetary Resources: Agencies are encouraged to “allocate resources to programs and practices backed by strong evidence of effectiveness while trimming activities that evidence shows are not effective.”
  • New Proposals Should Be Evidence-based: Major new proposals “should be accompanied by a thorough discussion of existing evidence, both positive and negative, on the effectiveness of those proposals in achieving the policy objective or agency priority goal. Such evidence includes evaluation results, performance measures, and other relevant data analytics and research studies, with a preference for high quality experimental and quasi-experimental studies. (Please include citations for evidence discussed.)”
  • Developing New Evidence: Agencies are encouraged to include new proposals for developing evidence that can be used to improve existing programs or to inform decisions about new programs. The memo cited randomized controlled trials or “carefully designed quasi-experimental techniques” as examples.
  • Grant Redesign: Agencies are encouraged to improve grant program designs to encourage evidence, performance, and innovation in service delivery. “These include tiered-evidence grants, Pay for Success initiatives and other pay for performance approaches, Performance Partnerships allowing blended funding, waiver demonstrations, incentive prizes, competitive incentive funds that encourage the use of evidence-based practices in formula grants, or other strategies to make grant programs more evidence focused.”
    • The memo also described a workshop, held last fall, that would show agencies how to use existing legal authority “to turn a traditional competitive grant program into an innovative, evidence-based one.” As an example, it said that “agencies can improve the effectiveness of formula grant programs by using competitive grants to encourage adoption of evidence-based approaches within formula grants.”
  • Service Provider Scorecards: Last year’s memo encouraged agencies to develop scorecards for rating and comparing service providers. According to the memo: “Scorecards are a tool for agencies and consumers to make more informed decisions and choices-and for providers to better understand and improve their performance. If data on participant characteristics are available, such as education level or income, scorecards can go a step further by enabling more detailed comparisons of alternative providers that serve people with similar characteristics.”
  • Data-driven Reviews: Last year’s memo indicated that evidence should be regularly considered during agency data-driven reviews and annual strategic review processes.

The administration’s Evidence and Innovation agenda is overseen by a team at OMB headed by Kathy Stack, Advisor for Evidence-based Policy Innovation. Stack was appointed to the position in July 2013 at the same time that the above OMB memo was released.

Stack leads a staff of three, one of whom is Andy Feldman, Special Advisor on Evidence and Innovation, who also independently runs a blog, Gov Innovator, which is devoted to interviewing leaders in the social innovation field.

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