The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative: A Conversation with Valerie Chang
April 3, 2018 | 40 Years, 40 Stories

In 2010, MacArthur formed a partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts to create the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. Results First works with states to implement an innovative evidence-based policymaking approach – featuring a cost-benefit analysis model – that helps them identify and invest in policies and programs proven to work.


Where did the idea for the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative come from and what does the initiative seek to achieve?
VC: Results First arose from a MacArthur initiative called The Power of Measuring Social Benefits, which sought to promote the use of evidence in social policy. The idea was that introducing evidence and results into the debate about social policy could focus attention on programs that worked well and could promote better use of scarce public resources. The Results First Initiative was designed to advance a key goal of that work: to advance the use of evidence in the policy process. Results First works with states and localities to develop the tools policymakers need to identify and fund effective programs that yield high returns on investment. The longer-term goal is for a critical mass of states to make resource allocation decisions based on evidence, and change fundamentally the way they think about and approach budgeting, creating momentum for such changes across the country.



Why was a partnership the right approach for the initiative?
VC: A partnership approach offered greater potential for impact and national spread. We sought a partner that shared our goal of using evidence to improve decision-making at the state level and had the resources and capacity to undertake the broad and long-term effort required to bring about systems change. Pew was a natural fit and, as a public charity, is able to engage in philanthropic activities and to operate programs.


What happened that you might not have expected?
VC: The initial goal for Results First was to engage 25 states. This felt ambitious given that we were unsure of what the response would be from state governments. We are now deployed in 37 jurisdictions – 27 states and 10 counties. The growth and spread of the initiative and the diversity of the jurisdictions that have engaged with us has been surprising and gratifying. We also didn't anticipate using the model for counties, which began when California's Public Safety Realignment initiative shifted many in the state's prison population to county jails. This spurred six California counties to partner with Results First to help ensure better results and more responsible financial stewardship by gaining a better understanding of effective programming in justice systems.


What's an example of the initiative's impact on the ground?
VC: A great example comes from Mississippi, which partnered with Results First on a rigorous inventory of its programs across several policy areas, including criminal justice. The assessment found that in fiscal year 2016, approximately $1.3 million was expended on programs for which there is no known high-quality research showing their effectiveness at reducing recidivism. One program being implemented was the Regimented Inmate Discipline (RID), a boot camp-style shock incarceration intervention that research suggests is ineffective. Mississippi's legislature repealed the Department of Corrections' authority to operate RID and prohibited the future sentencing of state inmates to such programs. The Legislature also passed a bill requiring that state agencies develop program that catalog agency programs and activities and indicate to what degree they are backed by evidence.

The initiative has also produced a body of resources and tools that help states engage in evidence-based policymaking even if they are not directly involved with the initiative. The Results First Clearinghouse Database provides a one-stop online resource to help policymakers find information on the effectiveness of various interventions in justice reform and other policy areas. Results First research and case studies explore the elements needed to advance evidence-based policymaking in local government and showcase how states have applied the practice to improve their budgeting and program outcomes.


Since 2010, MacArthur has provided The Pew Charitable Trusts $16.5 million to support the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.


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