Exponent Philanthropy thanks the Annie E. Casey Foundation for partnering to deliver a 3-part “Improving Outcomes for Children & Families” webinar series. This post is based on one part of the series: Evidence Based-Approaches to Grantmaking. View the 90-minute webinar on evidence-based approaches to grantmaking >>
In today’s age of data, measurement, metrics, and evaluation, are you surprised to learn that public systems serving children and families (e.g., health, education, child welfare) have been slow to adopt tested, effective programs on the community and state level?
“Unfortunately, when it comes to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families, the science of evaluating programs has moved much, much faster than the science of implementing them,” said Suzanne Barnard, director of Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF)’s Evidence-Based Practice Group. “There is a big gap between knowing what works and using what works in practice.”
For example, we know that prevention is key to improving outcomes for children. Tested, effective programs that minimize risk factors (e.g., family conflict, academic failure) and maximize protective factors (e.g., social skills, positive relationships with adults) have been proven to positively affect outcomes over time, and can be embedded into community, school, or family life.
So why does uptake remain low? AECF posed this question to public sector leaders, revealing three barriers to uptake:
- Not knowing which programs are best for the children being served
- Needing guidance on implementation
- Not knowing how to pay for the programs
Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Approach
In response, AECF and its partners developed Evidence2Success, a 5-part framework that involves community leaders in identifying what children and youth need and prescribing appropriate, proven interventions.
- Partnerships among public systems, elected officials, and communities
- Strategic use of local data to identify needs and develop a consensus among partners on outcomes
- Financing strategies to map current investments, to shift funding to cost-effective prevention programs, and to secure sustainable funding
- Capacity building to select and implement evidence-based programs
- Measurement of population-level changes
You can read more about Evidence2Success and its accomplishments in the new report Evidence2Success in Providence: Using Programs That Work.
Tools & Takeaways for Your Philanthropy
What are some lessons from AECF’s evidence-based approach to grantmaking?
- Prevention pays dividends. “Tested, effective programs are most likely to give the greatest return on investment for those precious public dollars,” said Jess Watrous, AECF senior associate. “Because these programs concentrate on risk factors that show up before a problem is fully developed, they also are usually likely to cost much less than the programs aimed at addressing a full-blown problem.”
- Community needs matter. AECF and partners launched a Youth Experience Survey to reveal the needs of children and youth in its pilot city of Providence, RI. “If the program fit isn’t right,” said Barnard, “you might not get the intended results.”
- Tested, effective programs exist to meet identified needs, and searchable databases will match needs with proven programs; some even give suggestions for implementation and program financing:
- Don’t fear financing hurdles. AECF helped its partners in Providence follow a 5-step strategic finance planning process to uncover an initial offering of $300K to redirect to proven programs.
AECF’s Evidence-Based Practice Group aims to increase the supply of tested, effective programs and increase their uptake by public systems. As many of you work to improve outcomes for children and families, they invite you to visit their site and learn from their journey.