While they have long collected data, increasingly in digital form, government agencies have struggled to create the infrastructure and acquire the skills needed to make use of this administrative data to realize the promise of evidence-based policymaking. But some states are already out ahead, establishing offices known as Data Labs or Policy Labs to enable states to partner with academia and make use of state administrative data to evaluate and ultimately improve programs and policies. By establishing the necessary technical infrastructure and governance mechanisms to help government gain access to much-needed analytical talent, these data labs are helping to convert data into insights and driving more evidence-based policymaking and service delivery. Urgently needed, however, are more such labs with the capacity to turn the data government collects into improvements in policies and services and the expansion of existing labs to enable nonprofits as well as government to evaluate their offerings using state data.
In collaboration with New Philanthropy Capital and with a grant from Digital Impact (formerly Markets for Good), the Governance Lab has developed a series of case studies to better our understanding of the existing landscape of policy labs, to learn from their successes and drawbacks, and to help inform those who might be interested in setting up their own labs. Based on interviews with directors and funders of these labs, the case studies look at the governance processes employed to share or access data and how these labs solicit expertise to enable program evaluation. We also published an essay on medium.com where we analyzed the various models of existing labs and the enabling conditions necessary to stand up a new policy lab.
The goal is to provide data owners, particularly those that hold personally identifiable data, with a blueprint to securely, responsibly and ethically share that information to end of improving programs in the public interest.