Unlocking Public Sector Innovation: Harnessing data to scale outcomes-contracting

Almost three years ago, Cuyahoga County embarked on an innovative approach to improve outcomes for homeless families with children in foster care. Utilizing an integrated data system developed by Case Western Reserve University, the County was able to identify a significant overlap between children’s length of time in foster care and their families’ lack of housing homeless families and extended stays in foster care. Their solution? Partner with Third Sector to develop a new $5M outcomes-oriented contract with Frontline Services with the goal of keeping families together and reducing days in foster care for 135 of Cuyahoga’s most vulnerable families.

But Cuyahoga didn’t stop there. Fast forward to 2017, and Cuyahoga continues to utilize integrated data from across agencies to explore interventions to reach those most in need and innovative outcomes-oriented contracting opportunities to procure those programs in areas such as Pre-K. Perhaps most impressively, the County has applied learnings from these demonstration projects to inform its new Health and Human Services strategic plan, which seeks to bring an outcomes-orientation to service delivery across the entire agency.

Third Sector’s new Empowering Families initiative seeks to take the outcomes-oriented leadership demonstrated in Cuyahoga County to scale in seven states and counties across America. Through our partnership with the Social Innovation Fund and Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), we now have the opportunity to deploy what we have learned from Pay for Success demonstration projects to forge sustainable pathways to improved multi-generational outcomes for America’s families.

So how will Third Sector’s Empowering Families initiative help drive outcomes-contracting at scale? Our goal is to address key challenges with scaling Pay for Success contracting that we discovered after six years in the space. This initiative will do so by:

  1. Building data infrastructure for outcomes: By supporting communities to develop integrated data systems with our partners at AISP, our demonstration projects will lay the groundwork for multiple outcomes-oriented contracts, vs. one-off data-sharing agreements or research projects.
  2. Transitioning existing government funding streams instead of finding new appropriations: Each Empowering Families community will define the outcomes they want to improve and assess the ability of their existing funding sources to incent those results by moving towards outcomes contracting. This will deepen Third Sector’s impact with new public funding streams within communities we have already served, and broaden our impact to new jurisdictions in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and North Carolina.
  3. Enabling government staff to drive systems change: We recognize that our work cannot scale without the ownership of government staff at both leadership and management levels. Therefore, Third Sector will be putting government teams in the driver seat to manage the tension between “getting stuff done” and working backwards from the goal of an outcomes-orientation across an agency, like we are seeing in Cuyahoga. Our objective is to empower government employees to lead systems changes required to implement outcomes-contracting not once, but over and over again. All of our technical assistance will be in support of developing champions, culture, and systems that can accelerate additional outcomes-oriented work.

Above all, Third Sector will continue to lead through implementing outcomes-oriented contracts. There is nothing like a tangible project to help government leaders learn how to transition their contracts to outcomes and build capacity to lay further groundwork for systems change. The road is long, but communities like Cuyahoga are an inspiration to those who aim to transform agencies by harnessing data and aligning public resources with tangible results for communities.

If you are interested in learning more, please reach out! We welcome your insights to help accelerate outcomes for America’s most vulnerable families.