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2022 Analysis Highlights States' Data-Based Decision-Making

In the recently released 2022 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence analysis, eight leading states were recognized for their work with data and evidence to guide policymaking decisions.

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Last month, Results for America released the 2022 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence, an analysis that highlighted the work of eight states around data-driven decision-making.

This year, the following states were selected by the group for recognition as leaders in the space: Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, Utah and Connecticut. Pennsylvania and Connecticut are newcomers to this year’s list, while the other states are being recognized for the second time.

The state of Connecticut has taken a multifaceted approach to data-driven decision-making. Several years ago, the state hired a chief data officer and created the Data Analysis Technology Advisory Board. From the state’s integrated data system, P20 WIN, to the GIS Office, many separate efforts within the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) work together to help the state collect, share and use data.

According to Scott Gaul, chief data officer at the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, data has two primary uses in the state: to increase transparency by getting more relevant information to the public more quickly and to inform decision-making in policy and practice.

As Gaul explained, the state data plan outlines the need for equity throughout the data life cycle: how it’s collected, stored and managed, and used.

“I think the other area we would focus quite a bit on is demystifying a lot of questions about the law and what it does and doesn’t say for how data can be used,” Gaul said.

In getting this information to the public, Gaul underlined the importance of including a narrative to provide more context for public interpretation.

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Office has also been a big component of the state’s data work. This office, like the chief data officer position, operates within the Office of Policy and Management. The Data and Policy Analytics unit within OPM unifies the state’s data work.

“OPM’s vision was to try and have these things coordinated so that we’re removing the silos.”

For the state of Tennessee, much of the data work is led by the state’s Office of Evidence and Impact (OEI). This includes evidence-based budgeting and the work of the newly created position of chief evaluation officer.

Evidence refers to research, including things like randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, while data refers more to specific counts, typically related to outcomes, according to OEI Director Christin Lotz.

The OEI — created three years ago to improve the use of data and evidence in budgeting and policymaking decisions — has four main focus areas: evidence-based budgeting; acting as the business leaders for enterprise data analytics work; implementation of the enterprise data analytics hub; and research and evaluation of programs.

As Lotz explained, the evaluations are not only helpful in assessing where programs are currently, but also in equipping departments with the tools for continued evaluation and improvement. The enterprise data analytics hub, meanwhile, will allow the state departments to do more cross-functional analytics to help make better decisions.

One way that the state uses evidence for decision-making is in the budgeting process. Departments are required to fill out evidence-based budgeting forms to justify requests for new or increased funding in ways that demonstrate their effectiveness.

“Already, we have seen improvement in the information that has been provided by our departments so that our leaders are better positioned to make good decisions about how they’re spending taxpayer dollars.”

The other six states highlighted as leading examples in data-driven decision-making were recognized for a range of efforts.

Colorado, for example, is working to keep constituents informed about the state’s progress for its strategic goals with the Governor’s Dashboard and about American Rescue Plan Act spending through a website.

Minnesota is leveraging its evaluation policy and impact evaluations to measure the effect of spending, especially in areas like opiate epidemic response grant activities, all through an outcome-oriented approach.

North Carolina is encouraging partnerships and collaboration while measuring progress through the NC Project Portal. The state uses data to guide decisions ranging from vaccine distribution to budgeting.

Pennsylvania is using performance-based contracts for its community corrections program, thereby investing in providers that meet recidivism prevention goals.

Washington has also implemented performance-based contracts, specifically within the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families, in order to help eliminate disparities for the families served.

And in Utah, several roles — including the state data coordinator and chief innovation officer — are dedicated to creating a statewide culture of data-driven decision-making and transparency.

Nine other states — Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, Arizona and Rhode Island — were recognized with honorable mentions.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.