By Brian Beachkofski and Jeff Lambart, Third Sector Capital Partners
We’ve invited the GEAR Center Challenge Winners to write “guest blogs” to provide more detail on their projects. This is the first in that series. The opinions expressed in this guest post are the authors’ own and do not reflect the views of Performance.gov or U.S. General Services Administration.
The critical elements that allow an individual to thrive and sustain economic self-sufficiency do not separate neatly into different categories. An individual’s current job and career pathway are clearly deeply intertwined with their housing stability, access to healthcare, involvement with the justice system, and educational outcomes. Yet the way government data is held in disconnected silos prevents policymakers from having a comprehensive view of the lives of the people they are serving. The private sector has embraced linking various available data points to create holistic profiles of customers which help firms tailor services and improve products. Public servants understand the need to take a similarly comprehensive view of their clients, yet are held back from doing so by legacy data systems that were set up with compliance and reporting in mind. Third Sector is leading the “Data for Impact” team, selected as one of three grand prize winners of the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center Challenge to try to change this reality by integrating siloed data on youth and young adults with past involvement with the justice and child welfare systems in Northern Virginia.
Supported by the $300,000 award from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Third Sector will work with the SkillSource Group over the course of the next year on a pilot program called “Data for Impact”, a new approach to sharing government data to improve services. The SkillSource Group (the fiscal agent for the workforce development board for Northern Virginia) delivers job training services with the intent to not only improve an individual’s immediate employment prospects, but to also improve outcomes across other domains such as reducing justice system involvement or reliance on public benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite the fact that prior evidence supports the notion that setting individuals on a sustainable career pathway has substantial spillover effects, there is currently no way for SkillSource and workforce development providers to systematically collect data on their clients’ outcomes in these other domains even though this data is already being collected by other government agencies.
“Data for Impact” seeks to build on previous work between Third Sector and SkillSource that used data on employment outcomes to refine services delivered under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. This work will expand beyond workforce outcomes and establish data-sharing agreements that will allow SkillSource to have visibility into outcomes across other domains such as utilization of public benefits, emergency healthcare usage, and justice system involvement.
Third Sector and SkillSource intend to show how an integrated dataset across agencies and levels of government could modernize government service delivery and enhance our understanding of community members’ needs. In the same way that holistic data on customers informs how firms market and improve their products, comprehensive data on the experience of workforce development trainees can make sure that government is matching clients to the services that will benefit them the most. Currently, each government program too often evaluates and refines their services in isolation, missing the opportunity to think more comprehensively and strategically about how the variety of public programs an individual may be accessing can better work together to address that client’s intersecting needs.
SkillSource’s work with Opportunity Youth in Northern Virginia is an excellent opportunity to develop a proof point for this new approach to leveraging government data to provide the most impactful services. This project will build on existing efforts in the Commonwealth of Virginia to evaluate and leverage multiple administrative data sources to measure the impact of workforce development programs on outcomes beyond skill attainment, certification, and employment. Third Sector has expertise in other jurisdictions managing the process of establishing complex cross-agency data-sharing agreements. Over the next year, the project team will bring together stakeholders with program, technical and data, and legal expertise to align on a data strategy, shared outcome metrics of interest, and research questions, as well as data management processes and oversight responsibilities. Ultimately, stakeholders will share tangible use cases to test and improve upon the shared data, so that data-driven policymaking can support continuous improvement of programs. This model will be designed as an example for other agencies and jurisdictions across the country to build on and modernize how government delivers services.
The data that government collects has the potential to be an invaluable asset for changing the lives of citizens, but this potential goes untapped when data on the same individual is held in separate systems and never integrated. To drive meaningful improvement in outcomes that are all deeply interconnected, government needs to be similarly holistic in their approach to delivering services. The GEAR Center award is a chance to lay the foundation for an innovative new approach to delivering services to Virginia’s Opportunity Youth that focuses not just on short term job placement, but instead on setting these youth and young adults on a path for sustainable success across the many important dimensions of their lives.