2016 Federal Index


Did the agency have staff, policies, and processes in place that encouraged innovation to improve the impact of its programs in FY16?

Administration for Children and Families (HHS)
  • ACF’s Behavioral Innovations to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project is the first major effort to apply a behavioral economics lens to programs that serve poor families in the U.S. Since its inception in 2010, the project has conducted 15 rapid-cycle randomized tests of behavioral innovations in seven states with nearly 100,000 sample members.
  • ACF’s Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS) demonstration project is applying behavioral insights to child support contexts, developing promising behavioral interventions, and building a culture of regular, rapid-cycle evaluation and critical inquiry within the child support community.
  • The Administration’s FY17 budget request (p. 347) proposes to repurpose the Temporary Assistance Contingency Fund for a targeted set of approaches to reducing poverty and promoting family economic security. These include demonstration projects to improve parental employment outcomes concurrently with child and family wellbeing outcomes; subsidized employment programs; and program improvement initiatives, such as monitoring and oversight, technical assistance, and research and the proposed demonstration programs would set aside funds for evaluation.
  • ACF has actively participated in the HHS IDEA Lab, an entity within HHS launched in 2013, to invest in internal innovation, leverage external innovation, and build collaborative communities to tackle cross-cutting issues of strategic importance. Current projects include the ACF Administration for Native Americans’ Application Toolkit and DataQuest: Making ACF Native Data Visible and Useful, the ACF Office of Family Assistance’s Understanding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Through Data Vizualization, and the ACF Office of Head Start’s Partnership Alignment Information Response System.
  • ACF is participating in the Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth initiative by providing flexibility for grantees to join partnerships at the state level. In addition ACF staff have served as technical and evaluation reviewers for selecting the Round 1 pilot sites, participated in the flexibility review process, and contributed evaluation expertise to planning for local and national evaluations of pilot sites.
Corporation for National and Community Service
  • CNCS remains a partner in the Performance Partnership Pilot (P3) program and has contributed to the national evaluation of this R&E estimates that one pilot site is leveraging CNCS funding through P3.
  • CNCS awarded 10 grants that launched in FY16 as part of a new grant making initiative called Operation AmeriCorps. This initiative was designed to encourage tribal and local leaders to identify a high-priority local challenge that AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps NCCC, and/or AmeriCorps VISTA members can holistically address in a relatively short period of time (no more than 2 years). This grant making initiative is innovative for CNCS as it is the first grant program that requires the blending of resources from different AmeriCorps programs – which usually operate separately – to create a new transformative service solution. In addition to requiring a blended service model, the grant program streamlined the application process and facilitated an internal examination of ways the agency’s business processes can be improved. CNCS’s R&E Office is conducting a two-year process evaluation of Operation AmeriCorps, which is designed to provide more formal findings on the extent to which the goals of the initiative were achieved.
Millennium Challenge Corporation
  • In September 2014, MCC’s Monitoring and Evaluation division launched the agency’s first Open Data Challenge, a call-to-action to Masters and PhD students working in economics, public policy, international development, or other related fields who were interested in exploring how to use publicly available MCC-financed primary data for policy-relevant analysis. The Challenge was intended to facilitate broader use of MCC’s US-taxpayer funded data. Due to the success of the first Open Data Challenge, a second Open Data Challenge was launched in February 2016 in order to encourage innovative ideas and maximize the use of data that MCC finances for its independent evaluations.
  • MCC is launching a gender data competition in Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the Data2x initiative of the UN Foundation and the World Wide Web Foundation. The competition and larger partnership will spur interest in, creative use of, and new learning from data related to women and girls.
  • In 2014, MCC launched an internal “Solutions Lab” that was designed to encourage innovation by engaging staff to come up with creative solutions to some of the biggest challenges MCC faces.
  • MCC is conducting an “Innovation Grant Program” in Zambia in order to encourage local innovation in pro-poor service delivery in the water sector through grants to community-based organizations, civil society and/or private sector entities.
  • MCC regularly engages in implementing pilot projects as part of its overall Compact A few examples include: 1) in Morocco, an innovative pay for results (PFR) mechanism to replicate or expand proven programs that provide integrated support including short-term (one to six months) job readiness skills training, technical training, job matching, follow-up to ensure longevity, and other services and 2) a “call-for-ideas” in Benin in 2015 that extended an invitation to interested companies and organizations from around the world to submit information regarding potential projects that would expand access to renewable off-grid electrical power in Benin, and 3) a regulatory strengthening project in Sierra Leone that includes funding for a results-based financing system designed to strengthen the regulator’s role, incentivize performance by the utilities, and enhance accountability.
U.S. Agency for International Development
  • USAID established the S. Global Development Lab (the Lab) in 2014 to increase the application of technology, innovation, and partnerships to extend the Agency’s development impact in helping to end extreme poverty. The Lab does this by working closely with colleagues across the Agency and by bringing together a diverse set of partners to discover, test, and scale breakthrough innovations to solve development challenges faster and cheaper and more sustainably. The Lab is the home for the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Innovations program (MERLIN) to source, co-design, implement and test solutions that innovate on traditional approaches to monitoring, evaluation, research and learning.
  • USAID has also launched six grand challenges to engage the public in the search for solutions to development problems.
  • The Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) awards grant financing to winners in three distinct stages of financing. Funding ranges from under $100,000 to $15 million, and is based on where a project is in its development and to what extent it has previously gathered evidence of success. The DIV model is designed to find breakthrough solutions, minimize risk and maximize impact through stage financing, rigorously test impacts and cost effectiveness, and scale proven solutions through the public or private sectors.
U.S. Department of Education
  • ED’s Investing in Innovation (i3) is the Department’s signature innovation program for K–12 public education. While the larger i3 grants are focused on validating and scaling evidence-based practices, the smaller i3 grants are designed to encourage innovative approaches to persistent challenges. These “Development” grants are the most prevalent type of i3 grant, comprising 105 out of the 157 i3 grants to date, and 7 of the 13 new i3 grants made in FY15. In order to spur similar types of innovation in higher education, the Department made its second cohort of grantees under its First in the World (FITW) program in FY15. The Department made 18 FITW grants in FY15, the vast majority of which (16 of 18) were in the “Development” category.
  • ED is participating in the Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth These pilots give state, local, and tribal governments an opportunity to test innovative new strategies to improve such outcomes for low-income disconnected youth ages 14 to 24, including youth who are in foster care, homeless, young parents, involved in the justice system, unemployed, or who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school.
  • The White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team has conducted several behavioral science studies related to ED’s work, including looking at the impact of text message reminders for students about key tasks related to college matriculation, such as completing financial aid paperwork, and about notices to student borrowers about income-driven repayment plans.
  • ED is currently implementing the Experimental Sites Initiative to test the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for participating institutions disbursing Title IV student aid.
  • ED has hired a full-time Pay-for-Success fellow in ED has entered into an agreement with the University of Utah’s Policy Innovation Lab to support a full-time Pay for Success Fellow at ED. With additional expertise provided by this fellow, ED is deepening its capacity and developing ways to use Pay for Success to expand effective educational programs and promote innovation.
  • The IES Research Grants Program supports the development and iterative testing of new, innovative approaches to improving education outcomes. IES makes research grants with a goal structure. “Goal 2: Development and Innovation” supports the development of new education curricula; instructional approaches; professional development; technology; and practices, programs, and policies that are implemented at the student-, classroom-, school-, district-, state-, or federal-level to improve student education outcomes.
U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development
  • HUD’s Policy Development and Research (PD&R) office is conducting a number of evaluated, random-assignment program demonstrations to test new program models, which can be found in PD&R’s biennial report: the Family Options study of homelessness interventions, Family Self-Sufficiency Demonstration, Pre-Purchase Homeownership Counseling Demonstration, Support and Services at Home (SASH) Demonstration for elderly households, Supportive Services Demonstration for health services in elderly housing, Rent Reform Demonstration, and the Small Area Fair Market Rent Demonstration. The latter demonstrations are in early or middle stages; interim results and long-term follow-up results generally will be reported through HUD USER during the next 2-4 years.
  • PD&R also is collaborating with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team and S. Department of Education to link tenant data with records of students and individuals submitting Free Applications for Federal Student Aid, helping increase access of HUD tenants to higher education through low-cost, behaviorally informed experiments about effective outreach methods. While detailed information about these experiments is not available at present, some can be found in HUD’s 2015 Annual Report (see p. 62) and will be included in SBST’s annual report in July 2016.
  • PD&R houses the Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation, and administers five types of Secretary’s Awards to encourage excellence: Public-Philanthropic Partnerships, Opportunity and Empowerment, Healthy Homes, Historic Preservation, and Housing and Community Design. The competitions are judged by juries of professionals, and bring visibility to the nation’s most compelling solutions for addressing housing and community development challenges.
  • PD&R sponsors an Innovation in Affordable Housing Competition to engage multidisciplinary teams of graduate students in addressing a specific housing problem developed by an actual public housing agency. The competition increases the nation’s future human capacity to address the affordable housing crisis by exposing future designers, administrators, and policymakers to real-world challenges of a specific legal and community context, with their proposals to be evaluated by an expert jury.
  • In FY16, HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition is providing funding for resilient housing and infrastructure projects to states and communities that suffered major natural disasters. Collaborative teams were assisted in extensively researching and developing their proposals by nine Resilience Academies developed by the Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with HUD. The in-depth, juried process is ensuring that the $1 billion of resources available for these communities in FY16 will result in more resilient housing and infrastructure and bridge the gap between social and physical vulnerabilities.
U.S. Department of Labor
  • DOL is participating in the Performance Partnership Pilots (P3) for innovative service delivery for disconnected youth which includes not only waivers and blending and braiding of federal funds, but gives bonus points in application reviews for proposing “high tier” evaluations. DOL is the lead agency for the evaluation of P3. DOL’s CEO and ETA prepared an evaluation technical assistance webinar for P3 grantees in 2014 and will be repeated for the next round of grantees in 2016. Beginning in FY16, the national P3 evaluation contractor is also providing evaluation TA to grantees for methodological design issues and data and management information systems.
  • DOL has initiated six behavioral insights tests (three in unemployment insurance, two in OSHA, and one in EBSA for pension contributions), and two behavioral insights testing different messaging to encourage voluntary compliance embedded into a larger experimental evaluations (in OSHA and Unemployment Insurance). The behavioral tests are being conducted in FY16. Initial findings will be released in April 2016 and will be posted on the CEO website.
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