A group out of New Haven, CT called Innovations for Poverty Action is evaluating anti-poverty programs around the globe to determine what works and what doesn’t. In their words:
Innovations for Poverty Action applies rigorous research techniques to test and develop solutions to real-world problems faced by the poor in developing countries.
Great. The anti-poverty world (whether we’re talking domestic or international poverty) needs as much information as it can get about what works and what doesn’t. And their roster of researchers is impressive enough that I trust their findings.
There are quite a few of these sorts of initiatives going on right now. I can name four off the top of my head, without even resorting to Google: MDRC (originally the Manpower Development Research Corporation), Mathematica Policy Research, the Center for What Works, and Edutopia.
It seems to me that the challenge before us has shifted. Access to skilled evaluators has been greatly expanded, as has awareness by funders that they have to start including evaluation costs in their grantmaking. It’s no longer about whether we should, how to, or who can evaluate promising programs. The problem is diffusing that information and enabling replication of successful models. Right now, it’s mostly enterprising agencies that initiate attempts to replicate or build on programs elsehwere. For instance, Tulsa Initiative is itself an attempt to build on the lessons of a program called New Hope out of Milwaukee.
Maybe I’m just ignorant of it (and if so, please provide examples in the comments!), but I’m not aware of any resources that catalog evaluations, make them publicly available, and systematically promote their adoption elsewhere. Replication is no one’s core strategy, even among foundations. Innovations for Poverty Action is a well-designed website and it’s easy to use – but you can quickly get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of publications available. If I’m interested in a program or issue, how do I quickly find what’s the best they’ve evaluated? (They do have a new blog, so that’s a start!)
So how can we empower organizations to replicate successes? How can we use new tools for communication and information dissemination, like social media and crowdsourcing, to promote the adoption of promising practices? Is someone doing this really well that I don’t know about?