Point of View: Getting creative to fund programs (The Oklahoman)

By State Sen. AJ Griffin and Ed Long

It's been long known that Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate of women in the country. It drives up what we spend on prisons, diminishing the available funding for programs that channel nonviolent offenders into treatment alternatives — programs that would still hold offenders accountable but also provide the help they need to get a job and raise a family.

That's why the Legislature approved a bill that authorized the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to enter into a Pay-for-Success (PFS) contract pilot program for criminal justice programs with proven outcomes for reducing public-sector costs related to the incarceration of women.

With a PFS contract, a private-sector partner provides upfront funding for a program selected for its ability to deliver a specific outcome. If those outcomes are achieved, the state repays a portion of the savings to the partner. Otherwise, the state pays nothing. This is an excellent example of alternative approaches to funding social services using partnerships.

As a state and a nation, progress has been made toward greater accountability and results-based decision making for taxpayer-funded programs and services. Government agencies are reaching beyond traditional organizational boundaries to partner not only with state and federal agencies, but with private, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations with similar missions and common goals.

While helpful during tough budget times, new approaches to funding are not just about immediate needs. They just make good sense — in tough times and in prosperity. Oklahoma has become known for our innovative spirit and creative ingenuity. We can and must take greater advantage of such partnerships.

Of course the funding model must be appropriate for the particular policy or service where improvement is being sought. Rather than prescribe a particular approach, we must assess which models work best in a given context. What they must have in common at their core, however, are shared goals, shared responsibility, coordinated efforts and shared accountability.

For example, a collective impact approach brings together all stakeholders working on a given issue — potentially hundreds of private, nonprofit and government entities to share a common agenda, coordinate efforts and measure progress while holding the collective responsible for success. In at least one state, a foundation made the decision that those interested in receiving funding to work on issues already being addressed by their collective impact initiative must be a part of the initiative to receive dollars. Funders are aligning allocation of dollars in a way that discourages going it alone and encourages collaboration for the common good.

Not only do these examples embody a unified and focused effort, but they represent a shift in culture that goes beyond the walls of an individual organization — one that is inclusive and brings everyone to the same table to work collaboratively. Innovative funding strategies are necessary to support this culture shift, drive creativity and change the way we view challenges and solutions. Getting creative is good for taxpayers and it's good for Oklahoma.

Griffin, R-Guthrie, represents District 20 in the Oklahoma Senate. Long, of Oklahoma City, is a social innovations entrepreneur.