The demand for data has spiked in recent months as governors seek real-time updates to make economic and public-health decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, but levels of sophistication with data vary widely among states. To help governors improve their use of data in policymaking, the nonprofit group Results for America published a guide last week with detailed steps, with advice ranging from how to establish strategic goals to redirecting grant funding.
The release of the “Blueprint for Delivering Results in State Government” coincides with some governors’ moves to reverse or pause their states’ economic re-openings, especially in southern and western states where new coronavirus infections are surging; the United States on Sunday hit a record-high 7-day average of 58,224 daily COVID-19 infections.
Jed Herrmann, a Results for America vice president who led the project, said the guide captures the best ideas collected in a series of meetings with a dozen governors’ offices co-hosted by his group and the National Governors Association over the last year.
The blueprint, which Herrmann described as a “soup to nuts” guide for establishing strong data governance within a state government, links 12 steps — starting with establishing goals that reflect the governor’s priorities and ending with investment guidance — with case studies from each state. Colorado is highlighted for using data over the last several years to benchmark statewide goals for education, health care and the workforce. Minnesota is singled out for its success developing inventories of its evidence-based programs.
Leaders in the states that provided the guide’s material may have been thinking about data comprehensively, Herrmann said, but many others didn’t begin thinking about data until the pandemic arrived.
“If you look at State of the State addresses from six months ago, very few governors were talking about data or data infrastructure,” he said. “If you look forward to today, basically every governor is talking on a routine basis about data and every state has a data dashboard around COVID. So it’s certainly elevated the prominence of states who are talking about data at the governor level.”
The guide also contains links throughout to Results for America’s national standard, published last year with 125 examples of effective evidence-based governance in state government across 33 states. That guide covers 15 categories, with names like innovation, data use and cost-benefit analysis. Herrmann said the group is hopeful that this guide, coupled with the immediacy of the pandemic, will nudge states toward an embrace of evidence-based governance.
“I think states have recognized they need to change the way they’re gathering data and that requires building additional data infrastructure,” he said. “The blueprint lays out some strategies for how they can do that, both for a vision for how does the state want to use data and then specific steps they can take to fulfill that vision so they can use data more effectively to manage and make decisions.”