Innovation Funds and Investing in What Works

From Left to Right: Deborah Smolover, Executive Director, America Forward; Deb DeSantis, President and CEO, Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH); Nicole Truhe, Director of Government Affairs, America Forward; Monica Beglau, Retired Executive Director, eMINTS National Center; David Anderson, Director of Evidence-Based Policy, Laura and John Arnold Foundation; Jeremy Ayers, Vice President of Policy, Results for America.

The following post was written by Nicole Truhe, Director of Government Affairs for America Forward.

America Forward, in partnership with Results for America (RFA), hosted a Congressional briefing last Thursday on advancing the use of evidence and evaluation to fund innovative solutions to our country’s most pressing challenges. The goal of the briefing was to educate federal agencies and members of Congress on how non-profits are finding innovative, evidence-based and results-driven solutions to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations and how the federal government can build on that progress.

The standing room only briefing featured an esteemed panel of experts that spoke not only to the importance of using rigorous evaluation to advance evidence-based policymaking but also highlighted the use of federal innovation programs, including the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), administered by the Department of Education, and the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Both of these innovation funds are structured to continuously analyze the data of what works through evaluation tools such randomized control trial (RCTs).

Deborah DeSantis, CEO of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), an America Forward Coalition member, joined the panel to talk about CSH’s accomplishments as a SIF grantee. DeSantis noted that “With SIF, we (CSH) is able to show, using rigorous evaluation, the impact of our work [and] we are able to improve outcomes for vulnerable populations.” The briefing also featured David Anderson from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Monica Beglau from eMINTS National Center, an i3 grantee, and Robert Doar from the American Enterprise Institute who moderated the panel. All of the panelists provided concrete reasons for the importance of embedding evidence and evaluations in federal grant programs so that we build the evidence of what works and learn from what doesn’t.

It is an unfortunate reality that SIF, i3, and other innovation funds are at risk of being cut or eliminated altogether just when the results from their investments are becoming known and the impact of their evaluations are being realized. At America Forward, we believe that innovation and evidence are needed in order to move the needle on our country’s most pressing social problems. The reality is that there are signs all around us that we are failing to make the right investments that will change the status quo and unlock the potential of all Americans.

In order to change this dynamic, we believe that innovation, evaluation, and outcomes need to be infused more substantially in our federal policies and in our policy-making process. Innovation Funds are one important way to make this change and Congress should consider their current and potential impact before prematurely defunding them.

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