Policy Analysis Center

Stoneleigh Fellow: Heather Rouse, 2010-2012

Stoneleigh Foundation has been invited by the William Penn Foundation (WPF) to partner in supporting the development and cost-benefit evaluation of a Policy Analysis Center (PAC) in the City of Philadelphia.  The proposal was submitted to WPF by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania working in close collaboration with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity.

The main purpose of the PAC is to house a comprehensive, integrated data system that provides an innovative, cost-effective and sustainable approach to using information to improve services for children and youth.  The cost –effectiveness of the PAC will be assessed through a series of research projects focused on priority areas identified by the Nutter administration: early childhood education, truancy and homelessness.  Stoneleigh Foundation funds would be used to support the first PAC research director who would be responsible for developing and overseeing all research activity.

Background

Increasingly, the complex problems facing major municipalities require policy makers to have access to timely and accurate information from multiple service systems and agencies.  Philadelphia has been a pioneer in this area.  In 2001, a partnership among the City of Philadelphia, William Penn Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania resulted in the Kids Integrated Data System. The KIDS project resulted in two important outcomes: 1) written agreements between the University and City agencies to integrate archival and administrative data and 2) the development of data management procedures and protocols that support collaborative research on major policy questions in the areas of early education, child welfare and homelessness. The KIDS system has already been used by University of Pennsylvania researchers to assess the impact of early care and education services as well as the prevalence and dynamics of homelessness in the City. At the same time the KIDS system was being developed, the City invested millions of dollars in CARES, a sophisticated computer system with the capacity to integrate administrative records across 11 City agencies—in real time and  with a high degree of accuracy.  Most agency heads would agree that the CARES system has not been used to full capacity.

Currently, City leaders are interested in incorporating the best practices of KIDS and CARES into a PAC that will enhance and sustain its capacity for timely and strategic decision making and policy change.  Penn researchers and City leaders have worked together to determine the improvements and adaptations necessary so the KIDS and Cares systems can operate in a complimentary fashion.  Penn staff also consulted extensively with School District of Philadelphia lawyers to develop data sharing agreements that provide legal protection for educational records.  Appropriate data sharing agreements will also be developed with Family Court.  City leaders and Penn staff agree that a major challenge in establishing a sustainable PAC is determining its practical and economic viability.   The PAC will be evaluated according to three criteria: 1) Do findings from PAC research projects result in practice or policy changes? 2) Do actual benefits of these changes justify the cost of PAC operations? and 3) Can PAC outcomes be communicated to the citizens of Philadelphia in a timely manner to foster community dialogue?

Current Need

The children and families of Philadelphia will be the primary constituencies of this project, specifically, children and youth who are served by the public education, health, behavioral health, human services agencies and family court system.  Key demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of these constituencies underline the City’s need to improve policies and services.   Twenty-six percent of families in Philadelphia with children under the age of 18 live below the poverty line; for female headed households this number jumps to over 40 percent. Between 2005 and 2008, 9,562 children were in emergency shelter placements; 48 percent were between the ages of 0-5.  The graduation rate of Philadelphia public school 9th graders ranged from 45 to 52 percent from 2000-2005.  Nearly 30% of young adults aged 25 or under have not received a high school diploma.  Studies have shown that truancy is a clear predictor of academic difficulty and dropping out of school.  Given these problems researchers and policymakers need the capacity to use information to determine how best to serve these vulnerable populations and to answer the critical policy and program questions of “what works”, “for whom” and “at what cost”.

Like most municipalities, Philadelphia’s agency databases are a powerful source of information for research and policy analysis.  Since many people who use public programs are often users of other programs at different developmental points in their lives, it is critical for the City to understand how their collective activities and information can be leveraged to maximize outcomes and increase efficiencies both across programs and over time. Experts agree the integration of agency data systems can provide compelling information on patterns of multi-system program use, costs and outcomes. Programs and services could be designed to target a particular sub-population of program users (i.e. pre-school children) who are known to be users of other systems (i.e. child welfare).  Policy analysts could use these data to identify which programs in one area (i.e. after school programs) may have the most significant  long-term gains as measured  by program outcomes in other areas and across life-span (i.e. reduced teen births or transmission of STD’s) And perhaps just as important as the results integrated data systems can provide, the research is possible in months rather than years and is potentially much  more cost effective than longitudinal research based on primary data.   City leaders have determined that together, the KIDS and CARES systems, housed in a well structured PAC would give Philadelphia this needed capacity.

Rationale and Activities

The proposed PAC will be operated under the guidance of the Office of the Deputy Mayor.  The CARES system, currently operated within the deputy mayor’s office would provide the technological capacity for the proposed PAC. Under this proposed grant the Office would expand its capacity through new agreements with the School District of Philadelphia and Family Court. The KIDS team at Penn would provide consultation based on their prior experience negotiating data agreements with these entities. The PAC team will consist of a project director, a research director (the position for which Stoneleigh Foundation is considering support), a database administrator and a team to support the CARES computer system.  Penn staff would work with this team to develop protocols for data requests, analyze data and translate results into recommendations for agency leaders. A governing board  (consisting of representatives of data providing agencies, funders and others appointed by the City) would  establish policies for the use of data, approve projects, review results and make recommendations for policy and future research.

To analyze the cost-effectiveness of the PAC a series of projects would be conducted to address three of the Mayor’s highest priority areas for enhanced service delivery: kindergarten readiness, homelessness, and truancy. The PAC would be used to either translate findings from completed Philadelphia research projects into policy or practice changes or to conduct new research to inform policy and cross-agency collaboration.    Examples of planned projects include: an analysis of the impact of risk factors and social services on children  in kindergarten through grade 3;  examining the impact of homelessness and mobility on truancy; and City use of data from recent studies by Penn staff to plan strategies to address the long-term housing needs of chronically homeless people and families. The Research Director would play the critical role of overseeing all approved research relationships and activities.

Through the development of a PAC, Philadelphia can continue to be a pioneer in this area while taking the next step in building its capacity to use knowledge to improve decision-making.  The interest of national stakeholders in Philadelphia’s data integration activity underscores the importance of this issue. Recently, members of the Penn KIDS team were invited to present lessons from KIDS at a US Department of Health and Human Services symposium. Also, The MacArthur Foundation is currently planning a project to advance the use of integrated data systems nationally and will use the KIDS system as a model. Members of the Penn KIDS team will act as consultants.