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Over the next few weeks Congress will be debating funding limits for federal programs for this current federal fiscal year. Lots of factors will be weighed when determining funding levels for both the defense and non-defense sectors and across programs such as health, education, and housing. If Congress is serious about being more outcomes-based and evidence-driven in how it makes funding decisions, one of the criteria they should use during this debate is whether a program is actually delivering results and spurring innovation.
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Our country recognizes the importance of using data and evidence in developing policy, allocating budgets, and awarding grant dollars. The push for this evidence-based approach to policymaking has generated several programs that are substantially impacting the lives of children, youth, and adults in communities across America. However, The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), along with many of the federal programs that have been leading the way in developing evidence and collecting data, are at risk of being defunded and discontinued altogether. It is critical that when these programs are up for reauthorization and funding, they are continued, if not increased!
We applaud Paul Carttar on his advocacy for this argument in a recent article he authored in The Chronicle of Philanthropy called “Congress Shouldn’t Kill the Social Innovation Fund.” Carttar details the impact of the SIF not only to the communities where the programs are playing out in real time using highly leveraged federal funds at a private match rate of 3:1, but also for the larger evidence-based movement that has been a hallmark of the Obama Administration as well as of the members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Since its creation six years ago, SIF has garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats and was recently identified by an independent evaluation as making a tangible impact in addressing our country’s biggest challenges. The evaluation which was conducted by Patrick Lester at the Social Innovation Research Center, reported that the independent, rigorous evaluations of the first cohort of SIF grantees demonstrated positive effects in areas such as early childhood reading, social enterprise employment, and workforce development.
In addition to these outcomes, as Carttar notes, the SIF is also helping to identify how to effectively engage in evaluations and use data to determine a program’s impact. This element of SIF is important not only to those entities engaged in the program but building the foundation in order effectively move to using research to drive public policy and to using evaluations to determine which government programs work and which do not.
In a similarly focused piece in Politico entitled "Evidence Comes Under Attack," Harry Stein chronicles the phenomenon of “defund[ing] data collection, analysis, and pilot programs that are helping to solve some of the toughest challenges facing the nation.” These programs not only have supporters on both sides of the aisle in Congress but are also championed by the Administration. Additionally, they are at the heart of the bi-partisan movement towards evidence-based policymaking.
The organizations involved in the Social Innovation Fund are in Washington, DC this week to share their activities and lessons learned with each other and to also meet with members of Congress to showcase the impact of the program in communities across the country. The timing of this convening is important because Congress is now back in session with a significant number of items that need their attention in the remaining weeks of the year. Funding the government into the next fiscal year is on that list.
If Congress is really serious about being more outcomes-based and evidence-driven in how it makes policy and funding decisions, one of the core criteria that should be used during the funding debate is whether a program is using evaluation and data. If it does, programs such as the Social Innovation Fund won’t be killed by Congress.
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