PFS and early childhood: Understand the role of evaluation with ICS (Urban Institute)

By Joe Waters, Institute for Child Success, Executive Vice President; and Megan Carolan, Institute for Child Success, Associate Director for Policy Research

Two key components of a pay for success (PFS) project— expanding programs with demonstrable evidence of outcomes, coupled with an evaluation strategy that can accurately gauge program impacts—require a clear understanding not only of the existing research on programs of interest, but also a more nuanced understanding of evaluation options for real-world programs. While PFS projects utilize the expertise of evaluators, it is essential that all partners understand the evaluation methods to be used, including their implications for service providers, and contribute to the conversation to ensure evaluation fits their needs.

To address these needs, the Institute for Child SuccessReadyNation, and the Sorenson Impact Center are pleased to host the Third Annual Conference of Early Childhood Social Impact Performance Advisors from June 22-24 in Denver—the only one of its kind. The conference is an opportunity for researchers, policymakers, funders, philanthropists, and government officials interested in PFS as a vehicle for scaling early childhood programs to learn firsthand from those in the field, share their experiences and concerns, and build a vision for the future of the field.

Evaluation is often a daunting component of early childhood programs seeking to balance the needs of funders and service providers. The stakes are even higher in PFS projects, as high-quality evaluation holds the key to measuring the successes that form the basis for outcome payments. Because of this, the conference will feature a specific track on evaluation and research, sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Sessions on this track include:

  • PFS Evaluation 101:What is the role of evaluation in a PFS project? What is the range of evaluation designs used in existing transactions?
  • PFS Evaluation Experience: A panel drawn from current PFS projects will speak on the experience of evaluation in their respective deals, discussing the strategies used, how that strategy was determined, and sharing lessons learned.
  • Update on Recent Evaluations of Early Childhood Programs: This session will allow attendees to move beyond headlines to learn about rigorous evaluations in early childhood programs-- including both pre-K and home-visiting—explicating what we know and do not know about various early childhood programs.
  • Designing Rigorous Evaluations of PFS Projects (workshop): Moving beyond an introduction to PFS evaluation, evaluation and early childhood experts from the Urban Institute and other organizations will work directly with jurisdictions to shape their thinking on evaluation design.

The generosity of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation makes available more spots for the conference, and we encourage jurisdictional teams and interested individuals alike to apply for attendance. The deadline for applications is later this week—please consider participating if you are also interested in the role of evaluation in early childhood PFS projects.

Joe Waters is the executive vice president at the Institute for Child Success. Megan Carolan is the associate director for policy research.