Supporting Partnerships to Advance Research and Knowledge (Project SPARK)

2019-2021

Many TANF and workforce development agencies are interested in becoming better users and producers of high-quality research in order to improve their programs for low-income families. However, many of these agencies currently lack the expertise and capacity to integrate data and evidence into their program practices. ACF has responded to this need through investments to strengthen the evaluation capacity of human services agencies through the provision of evaluation technical assistance (TA). In 2012, OPRE launched the Advancing Welfare and Family Self-Sufficiency Research Project to support state and local human services agencies with research and evaluation activities, and subsequently awarded a follow-on contract to continue this work. These earlier projects developed the “Learn, Innovate, Improve” (LI2) framework, a research-based approach to program improvement that embeds analytic methods in the process of designing, implementing, and iteratively testing program changes.

Building on this work, the ACF Office of Family Assistance launched the ongoing Rapid Cycle Evaluation and Training Technical Assistance (RCE TTA) project. RCE TTA has focused on the first two phases of LI2, “Learn” and “Innovate,” which are centered around assisting agencies with identifying, designing, and implementing evidence-informed program changes.

Project SPARK aims to complement these efforts by providing research and evaluation TA to state, tribal, and local TANF programs formerly engaged under RCE TTA. Led by Mathematica, this project will support those agencies in advancing their existing initiatives into the “Improve” phase of LI2, which focuses on evaluating program changes or innovations using pilot tests or other approaches.

Further, in recognizing that LI2 is just one method for providing evaluation TA, the project will also document existing evaluation TA approaches and examine whether certain approaches are more promising than others at building evaluation capacity within agencies. This new work will assess the landscape of current or previous evaluation TA activities in human services program contexts, ask what can be learned from other fields that have examined this question, and identify lessons to inform future federal evaluation capacity-building efforts.

Point(s) of contact: Victoria Kabak and Amelie Hecht.

Information collections related to this project have been reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under ACF’s Generic Clearance for Formative Data Collections for ACF Program Support (OMB #0970-0531). Related materials are available at the Supporting Partnerships to Advance Research and Knowledge Visit disclaimer page page on RegInfo.gov.