As state policymakers confront a fiscal and policy environment dramatically altered by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn, they can help achieve more streamlined and effective budgeting by sharing information and collaborating with other officials facing similar issues.
To encourage such an approach, The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Results First initiative is formalizing its cross-state networking by creating a peer learning community.
The effort launched July 29 with a virtual convening of more than 62 people from eight states. It will bring together state leaders working to advance and sustain the use of data and evidence in budget and policy decisions across branches of government and policy areas.
With an emphasis on promoting and sustaining evidence-based policymaking, members will focus on finding new champions for this approach within their states. They will also work to develop a network of peers with a similar emphasis in other states. The effort has four specific goals:
1. Advance evidence-based reforms
All of the states represented by learning community members have made important progress in advancing evidence-based policymaking through the use of Results First tools such as program inventories to inform programmatic, policy, and budget decisions; the cost-benefit model to examine program return on investment; and the Results First Clearinghouse Database to identify proven programs to meet their constituents’ needs.
States build their capacity to use evidence in unique ways, responding to administration priorities, staff capacity, and agency infrastructure. To advance evidence-based reforms, many states have begun to enact legislation, update agency policies, and fund new initiatives. The peer learning community will help states explore how to build and sustain these efforts in ways that work in their environments.
2. Promote peer networking across states
Results First facilitates networking for participants in the peer learning community by connecting state leaders with colleagues in other states to share lessons learned and troubleshoot common challenges. Although each state faces unique contextual factors that can influence reforms, many are dealing with similar issues.
3. Develop additional in-state support
Evidence-based policymaking efforts thrive when a diverse set of stakeholders helps to inform the work. No single person within government can achieve evidence-based policymaking reforms alone, because doing so requires buy-in from a range of stakeholders. This learning community helps participants to identify new in-state partners whom they can collaborate with to advance evidence-based reforms.
4. Position states as leaders in the field
The peer learning community highlights members as leaders in the field of evidence-based policymaking and experts on specific topics in the Results First Framework. The learning community will disseminate the work of leaders to external partners across the field and from all levels of government. Pew will continue to publish reports and issue briefs documenting the successes of state policymakers and staff in the learning community and encourage other organizations to see these individuals as experts and resources.
Who is part of the Results First Peer Learning Community?
The Results First Peer Learning Community consists of state leaders who are working to expand and advance evidence-based policymaking. This group includes state legislators, budget directors, and legislative and agency staff from states participating in the broader Results First initiative. Leaders from Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and North Carolina are represented.
Partnering with state leaders to support their work
Results First will offer resources to community members to encourage cross-state conversations. Many of these materials are similar to those produced by Pew staff in the past but now emphasize sharing ideas across states and peer learning.
The initiative will provide webinars to connect peer learning community members with one another and with external experts in evidence-based policymaking. The community will also provide virtual office hours that can serve as a less formal setting for state leaders to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, and explore potential opportunities around common topics of interest.
In addition to encouraging peer learning, this project will amplify the work these state leaders are conducting and promote their efforts to the field at large. Results First will continue to publish case studies and issue briefs highlighting state progress in advancing and sustaining evidence-based policymaking, as well as profiles of peer learning community members to showcase their accomplishments.
Results First’s peer learning community launch focused on sustaining evidence-based reforms in light of the pandemic and the economic challenges it has created for state budgets. At the session, state leaders shared insights on topics such as establishing cross-branch policies to support evidence-based policy, sustaining funding for the staff needed to complete this work, and demonstrating the impact of this approach on programmatic outcomes.
Going forward, the peer learning community will support these state leaders as they use data and evidence to respond to COVID-19, address what are likely to be difficult upcoming budget cycles, and ultimately improve outcomes for the people and communities they serve.
Sara Dube is a director and Alex Sileo is a senior associate with the Results First initiative.