Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Philanthropic Leaders Launch New Data and Evidence Initiatives to Advance What Works

    Data-driven, evidence-based policy can be a game changer for people and communities in need. When we know what works best and act on it, we achieve better results – increase reading levels, decrease homelessness, help more working families join the middle class – while making smarter use of taxpayer dollars.

    The Obama administration has doubled down on efforts to advance the use of rigorous evidence to drive smart policy decisions and to scale what works. Our social innovation agenda involves a two-step approach: using data and evidence to identify solutions that work better and then, once we’ve found measurably better solutions, replicating and scaling what works. 

    Philanthropy has been an essential partner to government in surfacing the tools, programs and approaches that work, providing grant and risk capital that enables replication, and connecting communities with the talent and resources they need to make change. Philanthropy’s role will continue to be critical along a spectrum from helping make data open to the public and enabling local government to make data-driven decisions to using data to support rigorous evaluations of social programs. That’s why I’m excited about two new philanthropic initiatives launching this week:

    • Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced What Works Cities, a major new initiative designed to enable mayors and city leaders to accelerate their use of data and evidence to improve the quality of life for residents. Former Mayor Bloomberg has brought together experts from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, the Sunlight Foundation, Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Center to work with cities directly with the goal of improving access to useable data, driving stronger performance by city governments, and learning how to evaluate impact in low-cost ways. 
    • The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is launching a new Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation Division that will support rigorous analysis of social programs across issues areas, build and share knowledge of what works, and aims to give policy makers tools to move the needle on our most pressing social challenges. 

    We look forward to following these and similar philanthropic endeavors and to engaging with the foundation community, cities, states, and service providers to identify and help scale evidence and data-driven solutions that support communities in need and make more efficient use of public resources.

  • New Pay for Success Grants Help Communities Advance What Works

    Government supports social programs to help foster better outcomes in people’s lives. We invest in workforce training programs to help people develop the skills they need to find good jobs and support their families; we invest in child welfare to provide stability in the lives of children who may be victims of abuse or neglect; we invest in early learning programs to set kids on a path for educational and life success.

    Too often, however, we don’t create the best incentives for nonprofit service providers and for that reason we don’t always see the outcomes we’d like for our public investment.  For instance, in the case of workforce training, we often compensate programs for how many people receive training, rather than how many trainees get jobs that pay family wages. 

    To be sure, we may get good results by funding proxies for success (training) rather than success itself (jobs). But logic and experience tell us that we get better results when we simply pay for the outcomes we want, when we pay for success. Enabling us to do just that is an innovative approach to social service funding appropriately called Pay for Success.

  • Introducing Our New Social Innovation Director

    I am delighted to announce that Dave Wilkinson will step forward to serve as the new Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Under Dave’s leadership, the Office will be focused on strengthening communities and enabling upward economic mobility by finding and growing approaches that work best for communities in need. 

    Using the tools of evidence-based policy, philanthropy, impact finance and human capital, Dave will lead an Office of Social Innovation that supports the development and launch of data-driven approaches across a range of domestic policy priorities from education and job growth to economic development and healthy communities. 

  • Operation AmeriCorps: Expanding Opportunity for All

    No child’s zip code should dictate her destiny – but for too many children, their aspirations and potential are limited by the opportunities available in the neighborhood where they grow up. And our country’s future depends on ensuring that all Americans have access to strong ladders of opportunity, no matter where they live.

    That’s why we are working in partnership with local leaders in Promise Zones across the country to spur economic growth and expand educational opportunities. That’s why we created Strong Cities, Strong Communities and worked to revitalize cities like Detroit and New Orleans.

    These initiatives provide more than access to federal expertise and funding – they also build human capital to help tribal and local leaders implement their plans. For instance, AmeriCorps members play a vital role in both Promise Zones and Strong Cities, Strong Communities where they help turn ideas into action.

    And with an exciting new initiative from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for service and volunteering that administers AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps members will expand their efforts to support tribes and localities in growing opportunity for all.

    Their Operation AmeriCorps initiative is the next phase of our efforts to focus on local needs and allow local leaders to achieve transformative change in their city or county.

  • Pay for Success: Spreading What Works and Sharing What We Know Across the U.S.

    Two years ago, President Obama prioritized Pay for Success (PFS) as one of the key strategies in his second-term social innovation agenda. PFS is a rapidly expanding approach to funding social services that is making great progress around the country.

    For those unfamiliar with PFS, it is a type of performance-based contracting for preventive social programs wherein government pays if desired set of specified outcomes are achieved. PFS often involves mission-driven investors who fund the preventive services with intent to be repaid from government savings generated when the services reduce demand for more costly safety net programs. If the services miss their targets or do not deliver, then investors absorb the loss. Thus, government only “pays for success.”

    Today, the Administration can point to federal investments of almost $40 million that have helped to jumpstart the field and established the U.S. as the largest PFS market in the world. Just today we announced the nation’s sixth PFS transaction. This new initiative aims to reduce foster care costs in Cuyahoga County, Ohio by supporting mothers with children who have lost their homes.

  • Celebrating 100 Years of Community Foundations

    America has led the world in developing a national culture of civic participation, but one of the most enduring institutions that we created has been the community foundation. Today, President Obama is proud to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the community foundation with a convening here at the White House, where we welcomed more than 100 leaders from this field. Together, we commemorated a century of achievement by community foundations and looked forward to the possibilities that lie ahead.

    In collaboration with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we hosted Community Foundations: Vital Leadership for America’s Future, a session to celebrate the extraordinary contributions that these institutions have made to our country. The first community foundation was created in 1914 when Frederick Goff created The Cleveland Foundation to facilitate charitable giving by residents to organizations in the city and surrounding area. 

    Since that time, the community foundation has flourished as an institution. Today, there are more than 700 in the U.S. convening cross-sector stakeholders on issues of community importance and driving billions in contributions to a wide range of important nonprofit causes. They are involved in tackling systemic challenges like long-term unemployment, responding to crises like natural disasters, and creating strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they protect. In these examples and many others, community foundations typically are among the first to step forward when called on to serve, and the last to leave a situation until the job is completed.