DENVER – The state of Colorado will partner with the University of Denver to create a Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab (CEAL) to evaluate how the state’s tax dollars are being spent and measure the success of government funded programs, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Monday.
The new program will be modeled off “policy labs” implemented by other states to pair public agencies, service providers and lawmakers with experienced researchers who can evaluate problems, quantify the effect of policies and scale proven solutions to ensure taxpayers are getting the biggest bang for their buck.
The funding for CEAL comes from a $4.5 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a Texas based philanthropic organization formed by billionaire John Arnold and his wife. The Arnold Foundation was formed in 2011 with a goal of improving “the lives of individuals by strengthening our social, governmental, and economic systems,” and has awarded grants totaling more than $770 million.
The Colorado grant is intended to “ensure that limited resources are spent wisely on programs that produce meaningful, lasting improvements in people’s lives,” and promote adoption of programs that are shown to be successful.
The policy lab will be based at the Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at the University of Denver, and will have funding for four years, at which point a new source of money would be needed.
David Miller, executive director of the Institute, will oversee the lab and said it could lead to a reduction in programs funded by the state and a redirection of funds from those that are underperforming to those that are succeeding.
Most of the $4.5 million grant goes towards paying professional researchers to delve into priority programs as determined by the executive branch of the state government, Miller said.
“The governor sets the agenda, it’s not researchers saying ‘this is what we are interested in.’”
Hickenlooper said some of his top priorities will be evaluating the job training programs in the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism and examining how Colorado handles foster care.
Miller offered examples of research outcomes from Rhode Island, which opened a similar lab in 2015. They included evaluating job training programs in the department of corrections to see which were placing the most former inmates into the workforce, and a change in distribution of the state’s food stamps program from one lump distribution to begin the month to two split throughout the month.
The latter was undertaken after a study showed individuals on the program were purchasing healthy foods early in the month when they had an abundance of assistance but would purchase cheaper, less nutritious foods late into the month when they were low on vouchers.
Rhode Island is evaluating how this will affect its dependent population, but the intervention is at no to low cost to the state, Miller said.
Opportunities to increase efficiency in government at little to no cost makes this project particularly interesting to Hickenlooper.
“A low tax state like Colorado, that efficiency is at a much higher premium,” he said.
The institute is hiring a director for the lab and expects to begin research as soon as Hickenlooper finalizes a list of the research priorities, which is expected to happen in September, Miller said.