What is the true cost to government of serving, or failing to serve, a family in need? When a government delivers services, what outcomes matter most? How can they be measured when critical information is siloed in various government agencies? And most importantly, where do governments and service providers even start the conversation on data access and analysis?
Third Sector and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) explored many answers to these questions at the Social Innovation Fund Pay for Success (PFS) Data and Evidence Workshop in Portland, Oregon. The March event brought together over 30 governments, service providers and academic organizations engaged in early childhood and youth development PFS projects. This workshop was the first time all had the opportunity to share best practices in data access and integration.
The value of data integration was made clear by Pam Curtis and Christopher Kelleher from OHSU’s Center for Evidence-based Policy. Curtis and Kelleher discussed the Center’s multi-agency integrated data set. Alongside partner ECONorthwest and several state partners, they delved into the challenges of matching children to their parents across multiple state sources to assemble a 10-year longitudinal picture of all children born in the State of Oregon. This comprehensive view allowed the Center to develop geographic hotspot maps and economic analyses to assess the risks and costs of child maltreatment and foster care placement across the state. Many of these tools are publicly available at the Center’s website highlighting its Pay for Success initiative, Oregon Pay for Prevention (P4P).
For jurisdictions seeking such data integration, experts in home visiting programs provided guidance. Gerald Croan from Third Sector, Laura Alfani from the Washington State Department of Early Learning, and Phil Peterson from ReadyNation discussed data confidentiality agreements and how state-level data repositories can accelerate and improve data integration efforts.
The workshop’s attendees were only a small but important fraction of the governments and service providers around the country pursuing integrated social service data to better serve communities in need. For those embarking on the journey towards data access in a PFS project, the Workshop identified four essential takeaways:
1. The data request process should not be rushed: Take the time to build trust with those who know the data best. Make sure that the data distributor truly understands the research objective, and how it can improve the provision of social services. In Third Sector’s PFS projects in Oregon, reaching agreements have taken more than a year.
2. Government data is designed for compliance and reporting, not always for client services: Do not expect your data sets to directly align with internal service provider data or with literature and evidence reviews. Work with the government to understand the meaning and reliability of data fields and their time frames, as well as the validity of alignment across data sources.
3. Look forward to crossing cognitive gaps: Develop a matrix of desired risk factors and outcomes with available government data fields, and refine it by working directly with data owners. Patience and collaboration will lead to a successful request and the depth of understanding necessary to interpret data well.
4. Be strategic with data requests: The more data requested, the longer and more complicated the process. You may find that doubling your data sources quadruples the effort. Intentional requests of specific data will expedite an understanding of your work and data delivery.
All attendees agreed with both the difficulty and the value of acquiring, integrating, and analyzing high-quality data “One of the virtues of PFS is that it challenges engrained habits and received wisdom about what vulnerable populations need,” Kelleher observed. “If we want to develop strong hypotheses and reliable tests, we need integrated data that can paint a complete picture of risks and outcomes.”
“One of the virtues of PFS is that it challenges engrained habits and received wisdom about what vulnerable populations need”
PFS has begun to catalyze a change in the culture of government in how it uses and shares data. Following these best practices can help projects achieve meaningful, measurable improvement for the people in greatest need.
Chris Kelleher is the Project Director for Oregon Pay for Prevention, and works from Portland.
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