In 2010, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law requiring budget priorities to be justified each year according to merit rather than the amount appropriated the preceding year. This performance-based budgeting system—Budgeting for Results (BFR)—assesses each program’s impact and helps policymakers allocate resources based on how well the initiatives achieve their intended goals and objectives. BFR aims to move the state budget process toward measuring government programs within a set of statewide priority outcomes, which can then inform investment decisions to optimize achievement of those desired outcomes.
The BFR framework encompasses a comprehensive assessment of public programs. Its infrastructure enables Illinois to collect performance data from over 70 state agencies, universities, boards, and commissions. It helps policymakers look at traditional outcome measures, research and evaluation findings, and cost-benefit ratios, all of which are used to inform the budget process.
This information is collected and analyzed using three key tools:
During fiscal year 2018, the Budgeting for Results Commission, which oversees the BFR process, successfully piloted the assessment framework on Illinois’ adult criminal justice services. First, the commission worked with the Corrections Department to compile an inventory of currently funded programs intended to reduce recidivism among state prison inmates. The inventory helped state officials refine performance measures for each, as documented in IPRS, and ensured that they accurately reflected statewide outcomes.
Then, using the Results First Clearinghouse Database, which compiles information on program effectiveness from nine national research clearinghouses, BFR staff matched the interventions identified in the inventory with similar approaches that have been shown through rigorous research to reduce recidivism. They conducted cost-benefit analyses to quantify anticipated returns from the state investment in six initiatives that matched those proved effective.
Finally, to assess each program’s overall effectiveness, the commission used the SPART analyses, along with information collected in IPRS and the cost-benefit analyses. The SPART reviews focused on performance measures for the criminal justice programs, for example, looking at the number of people placed on electronic monitoring or the number of offenders eligible for educational programming, and how those factors affect efforts to reduce recidivism. Summarizing this information, assessment reports recommended setting more specific outcome-oriented, long-term goals, including targets and timelines. The pilot’s success led to the expansion of the framework into additional policy areas, such as youth criminal justice and substance abuse.
While the shift to the BFR approach has been incremental, Illinois has effectively standardized a system for public reporting and analyzing performance of over 400 statewide public programs in seven areas: education, economic development, public safety, human services, health care, environment and culture, and government services.
The framework and tools will continue to improve. Today, Illinois state leaders are positioned to use this critical assessment data to educate and inform the budget process. That knowledge can help policymakers put a priority on funding effective services and enable them to be responsible stewards of public resources.
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Sara Dube is a director and Mariel McLeod is an associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.