President Obama hosted the White House Frontiers Conference on Thursday, which explored cutting edge science and technology both domestically and abroad. The conference brought together some of the world’s top innovators to discuss how frontiers in science and technology can improve lives. As part of the event, the White House highlighted the Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) Social Innovation Fund (SIF) Pay for Success (PFS) Administrative Data Pilot (ADP) grant recipients. Awardees are the Sorenson Impact Center, Stanford University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality in partnership with Third Sector Capital Partners and the Urban Institute.
The Sorenson Impact Center received $1.5 million, to be matched with an additional $1.5 million, for its proposed project. The project calls for accelerating the construction and launch of Pay for Success financing— also called social impact financing — projects around the country by removing both the legal and technical barriers to data access. The Center will provide full data diagnosis and technical assistance to develop the requisite data access agreements, software tools for cleaning and merging data, legal and regulatory analyses to provide guidance on data privacy questions and thorough statistical analyses geared toward facilitating high-quality PFS projects.
At the conference, President Obama spoke of the importance of using data in the social policy arena. “We’ve applied data and evidence to social policy, to find out what works, to scale up when it works — and stop funding things that don’t — thereby fostering a new era of social innovation,” said the president.
The SIF designed the ADP competition to select organizations that would support current PFS projects access high-quality, affordable data. Gathering data on social programs is notoriously difficult, as it is often hindered by confusion around the ability to share data, a lack of systems in place to pipe in data from external sources and many other reasons. Created in 2009, CNCS’s SIF has grown into nearly a $1 billion social impact incubator within the federal government, creating more than 450 public-private partnerships that deliver high-impact, community-based solutions. In 2014, the SIF reinforced its commitment to support innovative solutions and change how public and private sector investors allocate philanthropic resources by launching its SIF PFS program. This $30-plus million grant-making initiative was designed to help localities, states and nonprofits develop PFS projects that tie funding for social services to true impact in the community.
“Pay for Success financing is a powerful tool, but it relies on the ability to effectively collect, integrate and analyze data,” said Jeremy Keele, managing director of the Sorenson Impact Center. “We are honored to be awarded this grant alongside our exemplary peers in a joint effort to help advance President Obama’s goal of using data and evidence to achieve positive impacts at scale.”
Public-private partnerships are the foundation for Pay for Success financing, which supports and helps spread evidence-based programs, especially addressing social challenges, such as homelessness, recidivism, early education and other issue areas.
“Working across silos, using data and evidence, and taking an outcome mindset to how programs work — and how we fund them — are all part of what we’ve referred to as social innovation,” said David Wilkinson, director of the office of social innovation at the White House. “Together, we are driving collaborative, human-centered approaches that we hope will have a transformative effect in advancing opportunity, equality and justice.”
Through the innovative Pay for Success financing mechanism, the government pays for services only when the program delivers agreed-upon, positive outcomes. The program’s outcomes are measured by a third-party evaluator who reports what impacts have been achieved, such as lower rates of children needing special education, lower rates of recidivism or lower rates of homelessness, among many others.
“Along with tremendous growth in data, there’s been a proliferation of open-source tools that can help Pay for Success financing stakeholders access, interpret and extrapolate meaning from myriad sources of data,” said Daniel Hadley, chief data scientist at the Sorenson Impact Center. He added, “Through this opportunity, we want to serve as guides to service providers and local governments who need to be connected to stable, open-source data tools to expand the frontier of innovation.”
The Sorenson Impact Center will facilitate an open competition to select up to 12 recipients — targeting four per year over three years — with each recipient expected to receive approximately $250,000 in technical assistance per year. Applications will be accepted from all eligible organizations (i.e., nonprofit organizations, public or nonprofit universities, state and local governments, tribes, as well as faith-based organizations) operating in the U.S. that are actively involved with a Pay for Success project. The selection competition is expected to open in December 2016.