Minnesota has created two public, innovative, and interactive online tools to help policymakers determine how best to appropriate public funds: the Minnesota Inventory and the Evidence Base Demographics website.
Produced by Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), both resources provide clear, reputable, evidence-based information for public officials making budget decisions. The Minnesota Inventory, released in mid-2018, is modeled after Pew’s Results First Clearinghouse Database. The regularly updated inventory lists nearly 700 publicly funded social policy programs and services offered throughout Minnesota. The Evidence Base Demographics tool, launched in late 2020, provides information on the demographic composition—race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or education, for example—of the people who use the programs that have been reviewed by national research clearinghouses, regardless of where they are located.
The inventory provides a description of each program and a color-coded evidence rating that describes how effective it has been (e.g., green=proven effective, light green=promising, blue=theory-based, and gray=no effect). There are also links to the research that offers the evidence basis, often from a national evidence clearinghouse.
When users hover over an entry, the evidence rating reveals a rating definition; the program’s specific area of interest, such as keeping children in stable homes or policies on housing and substance use; the outcomes that were evaluated, such as child maltreatment, homelessness, and opioid use; and whether the outcomes were favorable or neutral. Users also can view and download the underlying data that contains the information, as well as additional details such as the service location and number of people participating in the program.
To make it easier and faster to find information, the inventory features keyword searches and filtering based on rating, area of interest, service population, outcome, and service location. For example, the user in the accompanying screenshot found 35 programs rated as ”proven effective” for mental health services for children for all outcomes and service areas.
State agency staff can use the inventory when making appropriations requests, and service providers can refer to it when deciding which programs to implement. Any interested party can use this resource to create a snapshot of the array of services offered throughout the state.
Furthermore, the benefits of the Minnesota Inventory tool can stretch beyond the state’s borders. Officials all over the country interested in capturing and displaying their own program data can use Minnesota’s example to explain what a program inventory is. Using the site, they can show that compiling a similar list is achievable, and then use the inventory as a template for how to present information. In fact, Tennessee recently released its own Interactive Program Inventory based on the Minnesota Inventory, with a focus on criminal justice, mental health, and substance use programs.
The Evidence Base Demographics tool allows users to dig deeper into the Minnesota Inventory, providing information such as race, ethnicity, education, income, and sex that's included in the research on program effectiveness. Access to that data can help illustrate who is reflected in the evidence base and whether specific groups and constituencies are represented.
To collect the data, MMB first looked at the sources of evidence—mainly national clearinghouses—for the 205 programs in the Minnesota Inventory rated as “promising” or “proven effective.” The office then compiled a list of the evaluations referenced by these clearinghouses and conducted a thorough demographic review of these studies. Analysts found that of the 856 studies available, 694 had some form of demographic data listed; 88 had a study size, but no available demographic information; and the remaining 74 had no study size or demographic data listed.
The Evidence Base Demographics site displays the information that MMB collected by percentage of participants for each of the 205 interventions. The easy-to-use site features color-coded bar charts and provides descriptions of the population type when users hover over bars in the chart.
Users also can download a complete list of the studies reviewed by MMB by intervention type, as well as a variety of tables showing the number of studies by service area, demographic data by service area, and demographic data by individual services.
Although data for ethnicity, income, and education is lacking for many of the listed programs, the site still provides useful insights on demographics of the program evidence base and how the programs reflect the demographics of participants in the state. MMB will update this resource as more data is available.
Because many states provide similar programs, such as Functional Family Therapy, Healthy Families America, and Nurse-Family Partnership, the Evidence Base Demographics tool and the Minnesota Inventory offer a valuable, easy-to-navigate, and free resource for an audience nationwide.
Sara Dube is a project director and Ronojoy Sen is an officer with the Results First initiative.