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Photo by Jay LaPrete/​The Associated Press

Houston — The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced a $7.4 million grant to the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) to support the work of its Government Performance Lab (GPL). Aimed at helping to improve the results governments achieve for their citizens, the lab is addressing a number of pressing social problems, including educational achievement gaps, recidivism, and addiction.

State and local governments are leaders in the effort to solve many of society’s most complex challenges. Yet, while governments are dedicating significant resources to issues such as homelessness and child maltreatment, these initiatives are not doing enough to achieve meaningful improvement in key outcomes. Governments have been slow to use the data and tools made available by the information technology revolution and have failed to adopt data-driven management strategies. In many cases, governments make no effort to determine whether their social spending is effective or to use data on an on-going basis to re-structure systems to produce better results. Ultimately, these failings can result in an inefficient allocation of taxpayer funding and worse outcomes for the people the government programs aim to help.

With support from LJAF, the GPL will offer training and on-the-ground technical assistance to governments that are interested in using data and innovative procurement strategies to improve the performance of government programs. The lab will develop collaborations with a select number of state and local governments that are working to carry out performance improvement projects — such as matching the right clients to the right services, setting up systems to track and improve performance in real time, and establishing performance-based payments for social service providers. The initiative also aims to create a network of innovative government leaders who are focused on using data to improve government performance across a broad range of policy areas.

We believe that governments should be making much greater use of data in tracking program performance and implementing continuous improvement efforts,” LJAF Vice President of Public Accountability Josh McGee explained. Strategic collaborations between policymakers and researchers will help to unleash new strategies that improve the results state and local governments achieve with their spending.”

The Government Performance Lab also houses the Harvard Kennedy School Social Impact Bond Lab (SIB Lab), which provides technical assistance to states, counties, and cities that are using Pay for Success (PFS) contracts. Over the past four years, the SIB Lab has helped 12 states and 6 cities in the PFS development process.

Our Pay for Success work has been a valuable testing ground for how hands-on engagements with state and local governments can improve public sector performance and generate learning that can be shared with other jurisdictions,” said Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy at HKS and director of GPL. By expanding our technical assistance model to help governments make better use of data and outcomes-focused contracting strategies in allocating their core spending, we will be able to further help governments address some of society’s greatest challenges.”

The GPL’s initial projects will be in Rhode Island and in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. In the coming year, the GPL will issue a request for proposals to select additional state and local government partners. In addition to on-the-ground work with specific government partners, the GPL will convene training sessions and performance improvement summits to share research findings and best practices with government innovators from across the country.