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Eight States Recognized for Data-Based Decision-Making

The recently released 2021 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence analysis highlights the way states are using data to protect residents, speed economic recovery and improve equity.

data analytics
Last month, the 2021 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence offered a look a some of the best examples of data-driven decision-making in state government, designating eight leaders.

The analysis, from Results for America, recognized eight states as leaders in the space: Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington.


Minnesota’s unique use of its opioid epidemic response grant program funds included putting one percent of those funds toward evaluating the impact of its investments.

The state’s Opiate Epidemic Response grant program was created through a 2019 law. Minnesota Management and Budget Department's (MMB) FY 22 budget set aside $300,000 to conduct impact evaluations on these grants.

According to Weston Merrick, senior manager at MMB and leader of the impact evaluation unit, the evaluations are conducted using existing state administrative data and data systems not only to explore the impacts related to use but also to explore other factors like housing and employment.

Merrick said that collecting new data can be expensive, so using existing data that the state has available allows for cost savings and improved security.

Once the data is collected, the next step is determining whether investments that have positive impacts can be expanded.

One example is Project ECHO, a telementoring program where health-care professionals come together for hour-long sessions to discuss various topics related to opioid use disorder. According to 2018 findings, only five percent of prescribers were prescribing medications for opioid use disorder, but doctors who participated in six sessions of the program were significantly more likely to do so.

From a legislation standpoint, Merrick said the next step would be preparing a budget proposal for the upcoming legislative session that could expand this program and build on its impact.

“We want to actually use this data to drive policy,” he said.

Another important component of impact evaluations is that they help the state make equitable decisions to combat opioid use disorder, which impacts historically marginalized groups at higher rates.

In Minnesota, people of color — and specifically Indigenous communities — are hit the hardest by the opioid epidemic, according to Merrick.

The evaluations help use evidence to explore the impact of different programs on a large scale, in addition to assessing how it impacts different racial and ethnic groups. Working with stakeholders to evaluate programmatic changes can also help make it more culturally appropriate, or better direct resources where they should be focused. Merrick pointed out that for this reason, external evaluations performed by a contractor do not always lead to the same kinds of meaningful conversations.


For the state of Washington, a major data project is the shift of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF)’s entire client services portfolio to performance-based contracts.

The legislation that formed the state agency in 2018 required the implementation of performance-based contracting (PBC), which the department will use program-specific quality and outcome metrics to implement.

According to Stacey Gillette, performance-based contracting administrator in the Office of Innovation, Alignment and Accountability, the novelty of the agency has been a challenge as a lot of its data infrastructure is still being built. However, she said, it has also been a benefit because as the technical side is being developed, DCYF can ensure they are measuring what matters to clients and communities.

With about 1,200 contracts for client services, the transformation will likely take years to be fully realized.

Because the department provides services for children from pre-birth up to the age of 25, there are a wide variety of services and measuring them will differ based on category.

One challenge Gillette mentioned is that PBC can sometimes lead to unintended consequences. For an equitable approach, DCYF is spending the time — possibly two to three years for every group — to ensure that the most important outcomes are being measured in a way that does not disincentivize providers from serving certain families.

“The public expects us to invest well the money that they provide us, and performance-based contracts is good stewardship of funding,” said DCYF communications director Jason Wettstein. “Good stewardship is good public service.”


Other states that were named leading states in data-driven decision-making were recognized for a variety of efforts.

Colorado was recognized in part for the 2021 passage of a law that aligns evidence definitions across state government entities.

North Carolina used disaggregated data for equitable vaccine distribution. The vaccine distribution approach included improving access, like transportation and increasing resources for certain counties.

Ohio’s notable data efforts involved consolidating the state’s data systems into the InnovateOhio Platform, which has helped the state recover finances.

The state of Oregon’s first data strategy was released in 2020 along with a data strategy website in 2021.

Tennessee’s data efforts have helped the state use an evidence-based approach, as defined by the state’s Office of Evidence and Impact, to balance the state’s budget.

Utah’s plan for equitable vaccine distribution, developed by the Multicultural Advisory Committee and community-based partners, helped increase the vaccination rate among Hispanic/Latino populations by over 400 percent.
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.