Blending and Braiding Funds: Opportunities to Strengthen State and Local Data and Evaluation Capacity in Human Services

41 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2023

See all articles by Jonathan Womer

Jonathan Womer

The Policy Lab at Brown University

Kathy Stack

Yale University - Tobin Center for Economic Policy

Date Written: March 28, 2023

Abstract

To better serve citizens and communities, state and local governments need a new approach to data and evaluation. By blending and braiding different programmatic funding streams and evaluating different operational structures, state and local leaders – from governors, cabinet secretaries and CIOs to county executives, program directors and grant recipients – can make tremendous strides toward better data-based decision-making. Federal dollars – including stimulus funds, program-specific grant funds, and project-specific funds – as well as direct state or local appropriations can be combined to create cross-program data-sharing and integration strategies.

The biggest benefit of integrated data systems is its biggest challenge: working with multiple government programs. Each program has different funding rules, timelines, and goals. There are too many for a government data analytics shop to be an expert in all of their administrative minutia. Nonetheless, some state and local governments had built amazing systems with dozens of programs. How had they done it?

We spent the first few months interviewing leading programs suggested to us by Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy in Allegheny County, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington. They had built their systems in a variety of ways - a strong executive vision, using outside partners, “paying the rent” with required work to enable higher level analytic work, delivering crucial analysis that motivated policy makers to deliver direct state funding, and figuring out how to braid and blend funds from multiple federal grant sources.

The next phase of the project involved vetting these strategies with a variety of outside entities.
1. Public interest groups - What are necessary qualities of state and local integrated data
systems to really benefit the public?
2. Other state and local governments that had or were contemplating integrated data systems -
Would these strategies work in your situation?
3. Federal grant and program experts - Would audit rules make some of these strategies a
problem?

Without modern, efficient integrated data systems, progress by federal, state and local governments in using data and evidence to improve decision-making will be slow and incomplete. But we are so close. Leading states and localities serve as proof points of the outsized benefits that centralized systems can offer in return for a modest investment.

The varied approaches they have used to finance their systems have created a menu of options available to state and local leaders whose integrated systems are at different stages of maturity and operate under different governance structures. There is a path for every state and local government to bring integrated data and robust evaluation to their organizations.

While states and localities can strengthen and expand integrated data systems, the federal government could take important steps to accelerate state and local progress. State and local governments are hobbled by fear and uncertainty. Uncertainty that the path to integrated data is fully supported by dozens of federal programs and fear that auditors and regulators will stop them from making progress. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies could implement coordinated regulatory and administrative actions to make it substantially easier for states and localities to finance systems by blending and braiding existing federal funding streams and to shift to more cost-efficient, secure, cloud-based technology solutions.

Keywords: data, state, local, blending, braiding, integrated data, SLDS, IDS, federal, integrated data system, state longitudinal data system

Suggested Citation

Womer, Jonathan and Stack, Kathy, Blending and Braiding Funds: Opportunities to Strengthen State and Local Data and Evaluation Capacity in Human Services (March 28, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4403532 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4403532

Jonathan Womer (Contact Author)

The Policy Lab at Brown University ( email )

225 Dyer Street
5th Floor
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Kathy Stack

Yale University - Tobin Center for Economic Policy ( email )

New Haven, CT
United States

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