The Innovative Employment Strategies project gathered and synthesized information on cutting edge approaches and programs for assisting applicants and recipients to gain, retain and advance in employment. Considerable research has already focused on strategies for moving recipients to work, and helping them retain and advance in that employment, or helping families avoid dependency in the first place. The project established a set of criteria to define and identify innovative approaches and programs. Twelve innovative approaches and 51 programs were identified. To qualify as “innovative,” an approach had to meet one or more of four criteria: (1) address at least one (and preferably more than one) of the causes of low earnings among low-wage workers; (2) provide an untested intervention, but one that is grounded in research to date; (3) address the specific policy interests of federal or state policymakers and/or program operators; or (4) have some potential for being adapted in other states and localities. Programs implementing such approaches were classified as innovative if they met one or more of four criteria: (1) strong program design and services; (2) relatively mature programs that are operating at “steady state” implementation or for relatively long periods of time; (3) programs that operate on at least a moderate scale; or (4) evidence of positive results or outcomes, particularly economic outcomes.
The project also explored opportunities and challenges for the further development and rigorous evaluation of such approaches, and developed recommendations for further research. The project addressed issues such as the scale of innovative and promising programs and implications for analytic power in research samples; amenability of interventions to a random assignment research design at an individual or group level; and methods for measuring impacts on a range of outcomes including employment, retention and advancement, and child well-being.