The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Colorado

This page was updated on March 4, 2019, to reflect new developments in the state.


In summer 2014, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative partnered with Colorado to incorporate the Results First approach into the state’s budget and policymaking processes. To support these efforts, the General Assembly dedicated funds that year for two new positions in the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) to coordinate the Results First work. 

The executive and legislative branches issued letters of support for implementing the Results First approach in Colorado. In his letter, former Governor John Hickenlooper (D) stated that his administration had “made a commitment to efficient, effective, and elegant government, and it is our hope that Results First will add significant value to our decision-making process and build on the work we’ve already begun.”


With support from Results First, OSPB’s Research and Evidence-Based Policy team first conducted program inventories and cost-benefit analyses in adult criminal justice, juvenile justice, and child welfare policy areas. The team then assessed four more areas: behavioral health (which includes both substance use disorder and mental health), general prevention, and health. The team has also published detailed reports and presented its findings to state government leaders and staff.


State policymakers have drawn on these findings to provide funding for evidence-based programs and identify those that would benefit from additional evaluation support. OSBP’s processes also discovered the need for additional implementation supports throughout the state to bridge the gap between research and practice. The office therefore received an ongoing appropriation of $500,000 from the legislature to grant to state partners. As of this year, this grant is supporting five projects over multiple years.

Criminal justice

The team found several programs operated by the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Community Corrections that were evidence-based and demonstrated to be effective. However, when compared to current state costs for programming, they were shown to be cost-ineffective. The corrections office had also been tracking internal performance data and recognized that Colorado’s recidivism rates were higher and the corrections’ population had changed drastically over the past several years. The office was serving a higher-risk, higher-needs population than before. The programming that was demonstrated to be cost-ineffective was not appropriately meeting the needs of this changing population. In response, state leaders invested approximately $5 million to create a community corrections pilot program based on evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy models to better address the needs of the current population.

Substance use prevention

Results First tools have helped Colorado invest new revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana sales to  drug prevention programs for young people.

Through the annual budget process for fiscal year 2016-17, OSPB received several requests from departments for money to target youth substance abuse prevention. These appeals were not coordinated, and the levels of evidence that supported the requests varied. The Research and Evidence-Based Policy team used Results First tools to identify the Communities That Care program, which met the needs of the departments, improved youth substance use outcomes, and was projected to be cost-beneficial in Colorado. Ultimately, the Department of Public Health and Environment proved to be the best fit for oversight of the program, although it does coordinate with other agencies, and the department received over $25 million to support the program.

Policy impact

Overall, Colorado policymakers have used the Results First approach to target over $130 million for effective programs. They have also incorporated the cost-benefit model and evidence-based resources in other high-profile initiatives, such as three Pay for Success projects, whose goal is to address the needs of adolescents in the justice system, in foster care, or in both, and provide them with evidence-based programs.

State leaders have also dedicated resources to support and monitor program delivery. In 2017, the legislature dedicated $500,000 to evaluation and implementation efforts through OSPB.

Through the annual budget instructions, OSPB has “evidence requirements” when a department makes a new or expanded funding request. The requests must cite research on expected outcomes, document projected returns on investment when possible, and provide an evaluation plan for new programs. In its review of the requests, OSPB provides research and funding recommendation to the governor’s budget analysts and the legislative Joint Budget Committee to help advance evidence-based policymaking.

Next steps

The Research and Evidence-Based Policy team will update the Results First model with the most current state data available to ensure that up-to-date analyses continue. The Research and Evidence-Based Policy team is updating the background information for adult and juvenile justice. Efforts are also underway to improve coordination on advancing the evidence-based policymaking framework through the work of the Colorado Evidence-Based Policy Collaborative, of which the Research and Evidence-Based Policy team is a member. The collaborative recently created evidence standards, which were adopted internally by the Joint Budget Committee and in turn creates a more streamlined budget request review process between the executive and legislative branches.

Learn more about our state work.

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