From moving families off the streets and into homes, to helping people who are addicted to opioids enroll in treatment, to retraining unemployed workers, state governments are tackling some of the biggest social problems facing the country today. But after years of progress, advances have stalled on many fronts in the face of more complex challenges.
Developments in technology have led to two new promising tools—data analysis and sophisticated research techniques—that could help policymakers improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public programs. To help states unlock the power of these tools, LJAF has seeded an initiative called “Policy Labs,” which bring together data experts, social scientists and public officials to build public infrastructure and integrate evidence into the day-to-day operations of governments.
With sites in six states and the District of Columbia, these unique private-public partnerships serve as incubators for social change. The labs maintain secure Integrated Data Systems that can be used to learn more about the needs of people who are using public services, tailor programs to meet demand, and evaluate the impact of existing policies—providing a research and development function similar to that which has driven innovation in fields such as health care, technology, and consumer products for decades.
Led by more than 30 of the foremost social science experts in the country, the labs are carrying out more than 160 projects. The model has lowered the cost and timeline for conducting government research, creating new opportunities for states to expand their use of data and evidence to improve public programs, and has also led to shifts in government spending and bipartisan legislative action.