Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Find What Works

“We don't have enough money or time or resources to invest in things that don't work, so we've got to be pretty hard-headed about saying if something is not working, let’s stop doing it.  Let’s do things that work...”

--President Barack Obama, February 27, 2014     

The President has made it clear that policies and investments should be driven by evidence so that government can do more of what works and less of what does not. As a result, the Obama Administration has prioritized building evidence to identify what works and using evidence to inform policy and funding decisions. And it has demonstrated results.  Evidence and data are enhancing the impact of government by enabling communities to identify and implement better, more effective solutions.  These tool are also helping us identify the greatest needs and opportunities to solve great challenges. 

Since the beginning of the Administration, the Office of Social Innovation has advanced this Presidential priority, promoting a series of innovative approaches to help find what works.  The Office’s goal is to discover the policies, the interventions (for example: in early education, job training, etc.), and the tools (such as approaches to program design and procurement innovation) that get the best results for communities in need. To do this, we advance solutions that:

  • Increase investment in rigorous evaluation and build evidence of what works in both policies and programs
  • Make better use of the data that is collected by government at all levels and by service providers, including improving accessibility and increasing in data analytics capacity to drive faster, cheaper, more reliable knowledge about what works
  • Enable the use of high-quality, low-cost evaluations and rapid, iterative experimentation
  • Increase evidence-building capacity from federal agencies to service providers using quality evaluation practices
  • Experiment responsibly to learn, course correct, and continuously improve

Highlights of our work to date have included:

  • White House - Interagency Evidence Process: The Office of Social Innovation coordinated a process through which 22 federal agencies are executing a total of 75 new, meaningful actions to build and use evidence using existing resources.  Among the activities that agencies have undertaken are:
    • Building the capacity of staff to develop logic models, identify performance measures and conduct rigorous evaluations
    • Offering training, technical assistance and clearinghouses to disseminate evidence of what works
    • Expanding tiered-evidence grantmaking and pay for success activity
    • Using behavioral sciences, rapid cycle testing and rigorous evaluation methods to improve and assess program and policy impact
    • Using administrative and program data to assess impact and adjust as needed.
  • Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making:  Before and after the President signed the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016, we have promoted and supported the work of bipartisan Commission, which will recommend ways to responsibly unlock government data so that it can drive more informed, fact-based policy making and also help communities implement better, more effective solutions.  
  • Advancing Behavioral Science: Research insights from behavioral science focus on how people make decisions, and contain important lessons for how to design federal programs to make them easier for the American people to engage with. For example, commonsense steps — such as simplifying communications and making choices more clear and user-friendly — can have a meaningful impact on who participates in a federal program, whether that program is focused on applying for financial aid for college, or saving for retirement.  Working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, we have helped advance the use of behavioral science to help government get better results, including through the President’s 2015 Executive Order and by working with and helping oversee the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, a cross-agency group of experts from human-centered design, behavioral economics, and related fields, which provides advice and guidance to help agencies implement the Executive Order.
  • Pay for Success Interagency Learning Network:  We launched the Pay for Success Interagency Learning Network to deepen and widen knowledge about Pay for Success (PFS) within the federal government.  Over a dozen agencies regularly participate, sharing knowledge and experiences in designing and implementing PFS strategies. Particular interest emerged from agencies to address legal questions that arise in implementing this novel approach to contracting. The PFS Interagency Learning Network now includes a dedicated legal subgroup that meets regularly and to connect implementing agencies with legal expertise throughout the Executive Branch.