Q&A: Lessons learned in first year of Colorado Policy Lab

The Colorado Policy Lab is among several in the country studying youth employment, policing, homelessness and more. The newest lab, launched in August, is in Texas. The Foundation has committed a total of $38.1 million to the initiative.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation helped to launch the first “Policy Lab” nearly a decade ago. Since then, the foundation has committed more than $38 million to expand the model to six states and the District of Columbia. We spoke with Kristin Klopfenstein, director of the Colorado Lab, and David Miller, executive director of the Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at the University of Denver, to learn more about what they’ve learned during the lab’s first year in operation.

What excites you about this work?

We are motivated by our desire to serve people in our state, particularly those who are vulnerable and facing difficult challenges in their communities. The work of the lab can directly improve the lives of people in Colorado. Perhaps the most exciting experience in the first six months of our work has been developing relationships with our government partners, who have come to view us as a constructive resource to help state government serve residents more effectively.

In terms of the work itself, we’re particularly excited about an anti-recidivism project we’re doing in partnership with the Colorado Department of Corrections and a project with multiple agencies to identify “high utilizers” of state services through shared data.

What does success for the Colorado Lab look like? 

Initially, success for the lab will be in the form of research projects conducted in partnership with a variety of state agencies, resulting in measureable improvement in the lives of Colorado residents.

Ultimately, we hope to institutionalize the lab as an ongoing partner with Colorado state government. We hope that after three to five years, we’ll be able to demonstrate to all three branches of state government the value of the lab. We also want to be able to point to detailed, concrete, and measurable impacts that the lab has had on specific groups of Coloradans.

What lessons have you learned about working with governments?

The three most important lessons we’ve learned are “Listen, listen, and listen.” It is essential to come to our government partners with an open and humble attitude, meeting them where they are, supporting them in articulating their pain points, and working with them to address their concerns in a spirit of collaboration.

Learn more: Unique private-public partnerships serve as incubators for social change.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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