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Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Social Sector Innovation Funds Help Governments Make Smarter Investments
Press Release

RELEASE: Social Sector Innovation Funds Help Governments Make Smarter Investments

New Report Outlines Lessons Learned and Makes Recommendations for the Future

Read the report.

Washington, D.C. — As leaders at all levels of government face mounting budgetary challenges, the Center for American Progress and Results for America, an initiative of America Achieves, released a report today exploring how social sector innovation funds use data and evidence to help the federal government get greater impact with limited public dollars.  The study presents lessons learned from an in-depth look at federal innovation funds that focus on developing and scaling promising community-based approaches that solve critical social problems. The report also outlines key policy recommendations that will help the federal government invest in what works.

“To address the enormous challenges facing young people and their families, we need to be sure that government dollars are invested more wisely and get dramatically better results.  As our report shows, evidence-based innovation funds are an important tool to help leaders at all levels of government find and invest in results-oriented solutions that will improve the lives of young people and their families,” said Michele Jolin, co-author of the report, managing partner at America Achieves and leader of the organization’s Results for America initiative.

Over the next decade America will face enormous social and economic shifts. Our nation will have less money for services while at the same time there will be greater demand from a larger, older, and more diverse population than ever before. Young people will be especially vulnerable in the face of these challenges. To significantly improve outcomes for young people and their families in the context of this constrained fiscal environment, we must focus on improving the ways in which taxpayer dollars are spent. The federal government must identify and invest in “what works” to be a catalyst for and investor in effective and innovative solutions that produce greater social impact in the key arenas that will determine our country’s future competitiveness—education, economic opportunity, workforce development, and youth development.

“The United States urgently needs to strengthen efforts to support its families and prepare its workforce for an increasingly competitive international economy.  This requires new and better ways of doing things,” said Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. “The federal government’s investments in social innovation funds that support the growth and enhancement of evidence-based programs offer great promise for improvement in family, student, and worker outcomes.”

The report, entitled “Social Sector Innovation Funds: Lessons Learned and Recommendations,” details the attributes of innovation funds, synthesizes lessons learned from the experience to date with these funds, and proposes a set of policy and implementation recommendations for strengthening social innovation funds and supporting the federal government in implementing a “what works” policy agenda. Policy recommendations highlighted in the report include:

  • Redirecting funds from ineffective federal government programs to innovation funds
  • Determining where additional innovation funds should be created
  • Providing additional funding for successful innovation fund grantees
  • Increasing funding for data collection and third-party evaluations
  • Setting aside a portion of larger federal funding streams and award them using evidence-based criteria.  This expansion of performance-based and evidence-based funding can be done without reducing the overall level of formula funding.

The paper, co-authored by Shivam Mallick Shah and Michele Jolin, looks at the progress these funds have made since their inception and details the following steps to be taken by the executive and legislative branches of the federal government to support quality implementation of innovation funds:

  • Create an interagency working group on innovation funds
  • Create a common evidence framework
  • Improve the peer-review process
  • Better understand the support fund grantees seek
  • Make better use of data collected to communicate the progress and lessons learned from these funds
  • Continue to increase the transparency of these programs and processes

In addition to data and competitive bidding, another key component that adds to the strength of these innovation funds is the role of the private sector and the matching funds they provide in communities across the country. For that reason, the report recommends that government leaders better define the role of philanthropy and the private sector in supporting social innovation funds and ensure the flexibility of private-sector matching funds.

The report also highlights the importance of constant evaluation of the programs themselves to inform future changes as well as share the lessons learned. It also warns against investments in “what works” coming at the expense of funding for those who need it most. Rather, the government should apply lessons learned from evidence-based programs to strengthen more traditional funding sources to make those programs more impactful. In its conclusion the report reiterates how important it is for the government to prioritize investments in evidence and innovation in order to meet the needs of young people and their families as well as communities across the country.

Read the report: Social Sector Innovation Funds: Lessons Learned and Recommendations by Shivam Mallick Shah and Michele Jolin.

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact Katie Peters at [email protected] or Allison Clear Fastow at [email protected].


America Achieves helps communities and states leverage policy, practice, and leadership to build high-quality educational systems and prepare each young person for success in careers, college, and citizenship. Through the Results for America initiative, we are focused on improving outcomes for young people and their families by helping drive public resources more efficiently toward results-driven solutions.  For more information regarding America Achieves, visit