Colorado Convenes County Leaders on Evidence-Based Policymaking

Focus is on challenges, opportunities in making decisions backed by research

Colorado Convenes County Leaders on Evidence-Based Policymaking
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Colorado has long been a leader in evidence-based policymaking. Working with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative and through other efforts, state leaders have transformed how they choose which programs to fund by systematically incorporating evidence into the budget process. To broaden the impact of such data-driven decision-making, however, officials recognize the need to help county and local governments deliver their services more effectively.

In 2017, the Governor’s Office, state agencies, and data-focused nonprofit and private organizations launched the Colorado Evidence-Based Policy Collaborative (EBP Collaborative) to bolster this approach at all levels of government. Members aim to encourage state and local leaders to value and use evidence, support communities with implementation of evidence-based programs and policies, and ensure that state-level decisions are responsive to local needs.

From the start, the group sought to understand the challenges facing counties in effectively using state and local resources to implement and evaluate evidence-based programs. To gain insight into county-specific needs, the EBP Collaborative, in partnership with Colorado State University and with support from Results First, convened in Denver on Dec. 12-13 with about 20 representatives from eight rural and urban counties.  The group invited counties that had experience with at least one of two state-funded evidence-based programs that promote coordinated efforts across human service agencies.

During the event, members of the EBP Collaborative shared information about national and state resources that support local program selection, implementation, and evaluation. In turn, county leaders discussed their need for and interest in specific resources and shared the challenges they face in using evidence in their decision-making processes.

As the event unfolded, county leaders described their top priorities for the EBP Collaborative. They recommended that the group seek to:

  1. Standardize language around evidence-based programs. Define common terms such as “evidence,” “risk,” and “prevention” to ensure that program administrators and practitioners are on the same page about the meaning of these terms.
  2. Cultivate a “community of practice.” Provide clear points of contact so that counties can navigate evidence resources and make connections in order to learn about various evidence-based programming efforts.
  3. Enhance how evidence-based programs are funded. Emphasize financing that is outcome-oriented, that facilitates collaboration across agencies, and that accounts for administrative costs such as data collection and evaluation.
  4. Encourage a culture shift in data collection and sharing. Streamline how data is shared across county agencies and state-level departments and build flexibility into the state’s prescriptive performance metrics for community programs to define true success.
  5. Build connections with academic institutions. Expand implementation and evaluation resources to counties, particularly rural counties that lack local capacity and funding to implement and evaluate evidence-based programs.
  6. Create tools to capture the universe of programs offered across state and local human service agencies. This could include program inventories with detailed operational information and/or program dashboards that highlight what services are being delivered by counties. 
  7. Provide tools to communicate the purpose and implications of these actions to local and state policymakers.

The EBP Collaborative will use these recommendations to develop strategies for further state-county collaboration. Given the enthusiastic participation and rich feedback at the event, leaders hope to provide other venues for cooperation to continue to inform the group’s work.

Sara Dube is a director and Abby Hannifan is a senior associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.

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How Counties Can Use Evidence-Based Policymaking to Achieve Better Outcomes

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How Counties Can Use Evidence-Based Policymaking to Achieve Better Outcomes

Counties play an essential role in delivering front-line services to residents. From administering state and federal benefits to operating jails and supporting local hospitals, they invest more than $550 billion annually in local communities, according to the National Association of Counties.