Integrated Data Systems and Outcomes-Oriented Contracting: A Powerful Combination for Improving OutcomesPart I

Public agencies and their partners hold important, yet largely unused, administrative data on individuals, families, and communities. These data are routinely collected in the course of service delivery, and taken together, form a rich picture of people’s experiences and trajectories. The challenge is that all too often, each agency, department, or program only has access to one piece of a larger picture. When we start to bring these pieces together, important connections and opportunities are brought to light that can improve the lives of individuals and families.

For example, access to high-quality child care or vocational training may help a mother find and maintain steady employment and decrease reliance on government benefits. Likewise, more stable family housing may increase a child’s attendance and achievement in school. Stable housing may have an even greater impact if paired with access to preventative medical care. But without the ability to link and analyze data held by different agencies, departments, and programs, the opportunity to improve services, lower costs, and strengthen policy is lost.

Integrated Data Systems (IDS) provide the governance process, legal framework, technical infrastructure, data model, security provisions, and human capacity to connect individuals across data silos to examine complex social issues. By securely linking administrative data across multiple agencies to monitor and track how services are being used and to what effect, IDS can support robust evaluation, program improvement, and smarter resource allocation. IDS allow agencies to take a more longitudinal and comprehensive approach to measuring outcomes that matter when planning for and evaluating services. IDS provide holistic information about individuals’ trajectories and can inform a two-generation approach to outcomes by linking data on individuals within a family or household unit.

One useful strategy for agencies that administer or deliver social services and are interested in using linked data to inform resource allocation for effective service design and delivery is outcomes-oriented contracting. Outcomes-oriented contracting is an approach to procurement that seeks to improve the value and impact of a contract by setting outcome goals upfront and using data and incentives to measure and promote goal attainment. Data infrastructure supports the outcomes-oriented contracting process by enabling agencies to:

  • Plan: Identify and understand community needs, which in turn inform the services that are selected and how they are designed and funded.
  • Procure: Draft service contracts that focus on specific outcome goals to which precise performance metrics are attached and, where feasible, on incentive structures to motivate providers toward goal attainment.   
  • Manage: Monitor, and learn from, provider performance on outcome goals and continuously improve services.
  • Evaluate: Measure goal achievement, determine incentive payments (where applicable), and inform future program and funding decisions.

Outcomes-oriented contracting is, therefore, a high-value use case for making IDS actionable. These contracts deploy linked data to inform government spending and, ultimately, support more efficient and effective service delivery. The process of developing outcomes-oriented contracts also engages stakeholders across programs, providers, and agencies in conversations around data-driven practices and can serve as an important value proposition.

Over the last 18-months a national cohort of sites in six states — Broward County (FL), Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, and North Carolina — have participated in the  Empowering Families initiative to advance their efforts on IDS and outcomes-oriented contracting. Through Empowering Families, state agencies across these six sites have received technical assistance from the University of Pennsylvania’s Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP) and Third Sector to support their work. This work has been funded in part by a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

The importance of the Empowering Families technical assistance was recently validated by a national survey across 29 states conducted by AISP that suggests there is room for growth in the use of IDS to inform outcomes-oriented contracting and other contract management practices.

Out of 35 organizations who provided information about how their data sharing effort uses linked data (including government agencies and executive offices, universities, and nonprofits), only a small percentage reported outcomes-oriented contracting or contract management  as a current use. More common uses of IDS included improving policy, evaluating and managing programs, and conducting research.

Third Sector  supports agencies in using data to better manage programs by developing clear impact metrics that are shared across stakeholder groups to align efforts toward common goals. In partnership with providers and other community stakeholders, routine data sharing provides the opportunity for both program evaluation and the continuous improvement of services to better meet the needs of underserved populations through better alignment and coordination of resources.

To learn more about how Empowering Families sites have been leveraging IDS and outcomes-oriented contracting towards improving outcomes for families and communities in their localities, check out Part II of this blog.

About AISP

Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP) is an initiative housed at the University of Pennsylvania that focuses on promoting secure, cross-sector data sharing for policy analysis and program reform. We help state and local governments and their partners build the technical and human capacity for collaborative and efficient social problem solving. To learn more, visit

About Third Sector

Third Sector is a nonprofit consultancy transforming the way communities connect people with vital social services. We use public funding, data, and incentives as levers to transform how governments, service providers, and stakeholders work together to deliver services that measurably improve people's lives. To learn more, please visit or send an email to