Reflections from the Empowering Families Learning Community Gathering in Denver

In early October, Third Sector and our data partner, Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), convened state and local government leaders from around the country to discuss effective steps to launching and sustaining Integrated Data Systems (IDS), as well as deploying that data to improve community outcomes. This was the third time the Empowering Families Learning Community convened over the past year, and the seminar showcased the progress of governments in identifying and supporting innovative models for improving outcomes for families.

The Empowering Families Learning Community was joined by both funders and service providers in Denver. The meeting began with an inspiring funder panel that included Raquel Hatter, the Deputy Director of the Human Services Program at the Kresge Foundation, Nikki Hatch, a Regional Administrator at the Administration for Children and Families, and Tracey Stewart, the Investment Director at Gary Community Investments. The panelists represented local, national and federal funding resources that support programs to improve family outcomes and discussed the unique role each type of funding plays to support and scale government innovation to better meet community needs. The Learning Community engaged the panelists in an interesting dialogue on how governments, service providers, and funders could work together to ensure that program and funding requirements prioritized improving family outcomes over compliance or reporting.

The convening also provided each team with an opportunity to update their peers on their project progress, while also providing concentrated time to discuss how their agencies will leverage their IDS to inform program improvement. During the meeting, teams discussed best practices in incorporating a racial equity lens into their IDS work, explored strategies for soliciting community feedback on program design, and compared methods for sharing data with service providers to drive continuous program improvement. Each team has been focused on these topics throughout their time working with Third Sector, and the in-person meeting showcased the great progress of each team as they work to launch their IDS and their outcomes-oriented projects.


Key Takeaways for the Empowering Families Learning Community

Communication between governments and communities strengthens programs: Several Empowering Families teams highlighted their work on creating feedback mechanisms that enable community feedback to iteratively and meaningfully shape policy, program improvements, and systems change. Reflecting on the provider engagement processes that the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, FL (CSC Broward) has piloted, Third Sector and CSC Broward recently collaborated to create a Service Provider Engagement Toolkit. The Toolkit provides government agencies with actionable steps for engaging with service providers throughout a contract’s life cycle to promote learning, improvement, and real-time program changes. Additionally, it provides strategies and ideas for embracing service providers and community members as “co-researchers” in two-way communication channels, leveraging their expertise and experience in contextualizing the data, and co-developing solutions that promote improved results.

Incorporating a racial equity lens into IDS development is critical:  The Learning Community teams are developing models that will ensure data use cases and policy decisions are subjected to a racial equity review before proceeding. Natalie Evans Harris, the Co-Founder of BrightHive, led the Learning Community in an engaging session that introduced a new paper, Technology For Civic Data Integration, and focused on the ethical use of data systems. Natalie reminded teams that systems are very good at producing the outcomes they are designed to produce, and that racial biases, both implicit and explicit can be exacerbated by poorly designed systems. The teams discussed best practices, such as conducting a historical review of local inequality, incorporating a racial equity lens into their work, and continuing to prioritize a racial equity focus through their demonstration projects. These goals echo Third Sector’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at our firm and in our project work with our clients.

Data is for learning, not just compliance: The meeting concluded with the perspective of a local 2Gen provider. Elaine Grossman, Director of Strategic Partnerships, at Valley Settlement, stressed the importance of ensuring that data reporting requirements are actionable for service providers. Elaine’s perspective was an important reminder that increased data sharing between providers and government agencies should enable governments and providers to learn more about the effectiveness of their programs, as opposed to increasing compliance requirements. Third Sector is working with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) to improve whole family outcomes and to strengthen data feedback and continuous improvement processes. The Iowa DHS has created a Service Provider Data Learning Collaborative that provides the space for providers to share leanings, compare data, identify trends, and adjust their services accordingly. 

Third Sector will be working with teams to support their progress as they leverage the momentum from the meeting to launch their demonstration projects. Each demonstration project is unique, but they now share a common checklist, and new set of tools from our time in Denver. We are excited to share the results of these demonstration projects and how they inform agency policy decisions in 2019.


Third Sector’s Empowering Families Learning Community

Third Sector is providing technical assistance to enable governments to leverage their IDS to develop outcomes-oriented contracts. Outcomes-oriented contracting is a form of performance-based contracting that ties contract and payment incentives to long-run program impact and leverages shared data to build continuous feedback loops. Third Sector’s technical assistance supports government clients in launching demonstration projects that embed outcomes-oriented program enhancements, such as data sharing methods, provider feedback loops, or the use of bonus payments to improve outcomes for children and families.

Example demonstration projects include:

The Massachusetts’s Learn to Earn (LTE) Initiative is working to create a Data Use License Agreement (DULA) to link inter-agency data across five government secretariats. The goal is to better understand benefit program recipients and help agencies identify the needs of common clients who are accessing multiple government programs and how these clients are progressing towards improved economic stability. Third Sector has helped the LTE team develop shared outcomes and convene a broad group of stakeholders to facilitate the development of the state’s DULA.

The Colorado Works Subsidized Training & Employment Program (CW STEP) project is seeking to increase the long-term wage growth and employment outcomes of individuals graduating from workforce development programs. Third Sector is partnering with the Colorado Department of Human Services to allocate bonus payments to service providers that assist clients in gaining employer desired skills to ensure strong employment outcomes, and a defined career trajectory. Third Sector has supported the Colorado team in developing long-term outcome measures, and is currently supporting the measurement and pricing of bonus targets and payments.