In Colorado, the Use of Data Is Changing the Way Government Operates

How a portfolio of outcome-driven initiatives is establishing a culture of evidence-based policymaking

Colorado capitol
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In a new report, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative names Colorado as one of 11 established states in evidence-based policymaking. These states have pursued key actions to incorporate evidence (findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses) into policy and budget decisions. The report assessed all states based on the presence and sophistication of these actions in four human service policy areas—behavioral health, child welfare, criminal justice, and juvenile justice. Download the full report.

Colorado is creating a culture of evidence-based policymaking through a portfolio of initiatives that use data to promote efficient, effective government. These efforts were established over the past six years and are affecting how policymakers make decisions.

These endeavors began in 2011 with the Lean initiative and the Performance Management Academy. The Lean program, which builds the capacity of the workforce to better use data to drive outcomes, has trained more than 3,000 people and provided support for over 500 process improvement projects. Likewise, the academy has provided training to help state leaders build and implement data-driven performance plans.

In 2013, the Colorado Legislature revised the State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent Government (SMART) Act, which requires each department to develop a set of measureable goals and a plan to achieve them. Governor John Hickenlooper launched an online dashboard that builds on the SMART Act by capturing the top goals and outcome measures across five priority areas: health, economic and infrastructure development, environment and energy, workforce development and education, and quality government services. This tool supports greater public transparency, enabling policymakers and residents to see the results their taxpayer dollars are achieving.

To continue promoting better outcomes for residents, the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) partnered with Results First in 2014 to implement tools that will help expand the use of evidence in policy and budget decision-making. In collaboration with executive, judicial, and legislative offices, the OSPB began inventorying state-funded programs in several human service policy areas in order to identify which have been proved effective through research. To date, this effort has identified more than 40 evidence-based programs, the majority of which can achieve positive returns on taxpayer dollars, according to the state’s analysis.  For instance, a cost-benefit analysis of eight evidence-based juvenile facility treatment programs showed that the state can expect returns as high as $11 for every $1 invested. This information enables policymakers to make smart investments that will deliver the best outcomes for their constituents.

To further promote the use of evidence, Colorado in 2015 began exploring Pay for Success contracts, which will pay program providers based on measurable impacts achieved by their services. The state released its first solicitation in January 2017 for innovative approaches that will improve outcomes for the state’s underserved youth and their families.

“Our focus is on improving outcomes for our customers, and each of these data-driven initiatives is part of an integrated approach to make this happen. A key part of our ability to be successful is the strong collaboration we have across our leadership, starting with the partnership between our operations work and the budget team led by Henry Sobanet,” said Lieutenant Governor and Chief Operating Officer Donna Lynne.

Colorado’s portfolio of outcome-driven initiatives serves as an exemplar to other states seeking to advance an evidence-based policymaking culture.

Sara Dube is the project director and Kristen Pendergrass is a state policy senior associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.

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