4 Ways to Help Evidence-Based Programs Succeed

With increased emphasis on funding what works, government leaders across the country are seeking to invest in evidence-based programs that have been shown by rigorous research to achieve key outcomes. Yet funding alone does not guarantee success.

Evidence-based programs must also be implemented with fidelity to their design in order to deliver the outcomes policymakers and citizens expect. (See "Evidence-Based Policymaking: A Guide for Effective Government.")

Public managers often face financial and logistical challenges when implementing evidence-based programs, which may require costly changes to staffing, training, technical assistance, and monitoring systems. Managers may also struggle to target the right population and to identify which program elements can be modified while still generating predicted results.

Through interviews and reviews of best practices, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative identified four key steps governments can take to improve their implementation of evidence-based programs.

1. Identify needs and goals, then select proven programs.

First, governments should assess community needs, identify desired outcomes, and select evidence-based programs shown to be effective in achieving results in similar contexts.

For example, local governments in Pennsylvania have used the Communities That Care model to assess the risk and protective factors of youth in grades 6 through 12. This resource has allowed policymakers to select interventions to meet identified local needs from a list of over 300 evidence-based programs.

2. Align policies and processes.

Second, governments can create policies and processes that support the effective implementation and monitoring of evidence-based programs.

Scaling up these programs often requires developing management infrastructure, such as embedding implementation standards into contracts and administrative policies. For instance, New York state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services requires grant recipients to demonstrate that evidence-based programs are being implemented according to their intended design—demonstrating fidelity—and are achieving expected outcomes.

3. Train personnel.

Third, governments can create systems that support service providers and agency personnel through training and technical assistance. Staff typically need training in using screening and assessment tools to match clients to appropriate interventions and in delivering services according to program models. 

Ongoing assistance can identify and resolve problems that arise to ensure fidelity. For example, Colorado’s Evidence-Based Practices Implementation for Capacity (EPIC) resource center supports effective adult and juvenile justice practices through coaching, training, and capacity building.

4. Monitor performance.

Fourth, governments can create systems to monitor implementation and performance.

Fidelity monitoring tools help program managers assess whether providers have the required organizational capacity, identify training and assistance needs, track outcomes, and develop systems that continuously improve performance.

For example, many states and local governments are using the Correctional Program Checklist to compare their criminal justice programs against best practices and principles. The checklist allows officials to determine whether elements are being implemented effectively and to track overall performance.

To explore how states have utilized these strategies and how others can learn from these examples, please  see the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative’s new brief, "Implementation Oversight for Evidence-Based Programs."

Gary VanLandingham is the director and Elizabeth Davies is a senior associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.

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