Farewell 2013, a very mixed year for the "what works" movement – and welcome 2014, a time for some serious resolutions.
First, the good news: there's no doubt that progress was made in 2013 on multiple fronts relating to the funding of programs and approaches with actual evidence of results. The White House and federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) continued to amplify the drum beat surrounding the importance of evidence and formal evaluation. Congress continued funding for the major "tiered-evidence" programs, including $42 million for the Social Innovation Fund and $75 million for proven teen pregnancy prevention programs. Various public and private parties came together to structure and fund concrete "pay for success" deals. Seventy-five percent of private foundations surveyed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy profess the importance of supporting grantees' efforts to collect performance data. And visibility of evidence-related issues appears to have increased, at least as judged by the number of articles and conference sessions we see on topics such as evaluation and performance management.
To be sure, the worst of the bad news is that despite this progress, 2013 saw little or no improvement in the negative, underlying conditions that make "funding what works" such an imperative: The overall poverty rate remained stuck at about 15 percent. The number of long-term unemployed lingered as a deep concern. Average real wages stayed flat yet again. And the federal government still faces long-term fiscal pressures.
So as we kick off 2014, it's clear we simply must do more to increase the impact we get from the money we invest in addressing societal needs. Will 2014 be the year we actually turn the corner on the widespread, large-scale use of evidence to drive funding of social initiatives? To that end, we're respectfully proposing four New Year's resolutions for key players in the public and social sectors.
Bridgespan will be working diligently this year to do what it can to make "what works" part of the conversation. But what resolutions would you suggest, and to whom, to help make 2014 the year of "what works?"
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