Using Data to Make (More) Social Programs Work (Better)

by Chelsea Farley

Mar 1, 2011
Written in 2011 as a companion to Priorities for a New Decade: Making (More) Social Programs Work (Better), this brief highlights several examples from P/PV's history that demonstrate how research and evaluation can be used to develop fields of practice in the social sector. In contrast to one-off program evaluations (particularly randomized control trials performed too soon), the brief shows that strong, longstanding partnerships between researchers, practitioners and their funders can illuminate and help improve on-the-ground practice in social programs. Among the examples discussed: P/PV's research on Big Brothers Big Sisters and other mentoring programs, which not only showed that youth benefit from mentoring, but also helped pinpoint the qualities that characterize effective mentoring relationships and the practices and administrative structures that facilitate their growth; P/PV's decade-long involvement with sectoral employment strategies, which culminated in a random assignment study revealing powerful effects for program participants, including higher earnings and higher-quality jobs; P/PV's work with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to understand the role of the "the whole Club experience" for youth -- part of a much larger body of work examining the potential of out-of-school-time programs to improve youth outcomes; P/PV's experience replicating effective approaches, especially its involvement with the Nurse-Family Partnership; andP/PV's efforts to share the lessons of its work, via targeted technical assistance and the broad dissemination of reports, policy briefs, guides and tools.
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