Agenda, Scope, and Goals
The following projects are currently affiliated with the MDRC Center for Data Insights:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Data Innovations (TDI) will support innovation and effectiveness of state-level Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs by enhancing the use of data from TANF and related human services programs. This work may include encouraging and strengthening state integrated data systems promoting proper payments and program integrity, and enabling data analytics for TANF program improvement. Across its activities, the contract will support the use of data for understanding the broad impact that TANF has on families and will improve knowledge of how the federal government and state partners can use data to more efficiently and effectively serve TANF clients. Partners include Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, and Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Partnership with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) for Predictive Analytics, a partnership focused on harnessing granular, longitudinal administrative data to build a system for ongoing, advanced analytics that support CEO’s continuous improvement process. Foremost, the project is using predictive analytics to provide early warnings and frequent updates of participants’ risks of not reaching milestones in CEO’s employment training program. The goal is for these early warnings to be transmitted, practically in real time, to front-line case workers and leaders, as part of their standard dashboards and data protocols. CEO plans to train staff members to act on this information, and to work with MDRC to design, implement, and test new interventions based on insights provided by the predictive analytics results. The project is also incorporating additional, iterative, and automated data analytics that will provide real-time monitoring of program outcomes. These analytics capabilities include attendance and attrition reports, A/B testing, and data visualization.
Subprime Lending Data Exploration Project, a “big data” project, funded by the MetLife foundation, is designed to produce policy-relevant insights using an administrative data set that covers nearly 50 million individuals who have applied for or used subprime credit. The data set contains information on borrower demographics, loan types and terms, account types and balances, and repayment histories. To investigate whether there were distinct groups of borrowers in terms of loan usage patterns and outcomes, MDRC used a data discovery process called K-means clustering. The project used several other techniques to derive insights into payday lending behavior including geospatial analysis and conjoint experiments. More recently, the project has exploited the enormous scale of the database to analyze cross-border variation in payday lending usage as a function of whether states took advantage of the Medicaid expansion.
Validating and Improving a Pretrial Risk Assessment Tool is focused on assessing and potentially improving a tool that predicts defendants’ risks of failure to appear for court, committing a new crime while awaiting court, and committing a new violent crime. The project team brings a unique combination of substantive and methodological expertise in cutting-edge predictive analytics methods while also understanding the pretrial criminal justice context and the practical considerations that could affect the usefulness of a risk tool in various jurisdictional contexts and its potential to expand to a larger scale.
New Visions for Public Schools (NVPS) Researcher-Practitioner Partnership for Predictive Analytics was a partnership in which MDRC researchers developed and implemented a comprehensive predictive modeling framework that allows for rapid and iterative estimation of a continuous measure of risk for each student at a point in time. The framework was implemented with data from NVPS’s network of 70 high schools to estimate students’ risk of not graduating on time and of not passing the state algebra exam required for graduation.
The Long-Term Outcomes Study is an effort to produce new findings from older studies using new matching techniques and approaches. The project is assessing the feasibility of linking administrative data sets to program evaluation records, a promising and potentially low-cost means of tracking the long-term impacts of social interventions. While social programs are often designed to have long-term benefits for participants, many evaluations do not (or are not able to) track outcomes in the long term. With recent interest in making administrative data more accessible — reflected in the recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking — it is important for researchers and others to understand whether and how these data sets can be linked to evaluation data sets. For the Long-Term Outcomes project, data are being collected from 16 employment-related evaluations to assess the practical and legal feasibility of accomplishing these links, to assess potential costs, to determine who owns various sources of data, to identify any history of links to other projects, to catalogue past findings, and to gauge the current availability of relevant data and metadata. Information is also being collected on administrative data sources, including the availability and content of the data sources, the identifiers needed to facilitate data linking, and the restrictions that may exist on who can access the data and for what purpose.
Chicago Community Networks Study uses social network analysis to explore ways to consider power in networks of neighborhood organizations, how power is configured differently in different Chicago neighborhoods, and how these patterns can help communities respond to local challenges. Social network analysis can allow researchers to understand how neighborhoods differ in the levels and extents of these interactions across domains — how “comprehensive” community connections are. MDRC has produced state-of-the-art network graphics to help measure comprehensiveness in ties among local organizations in Chicago neighborhoods, and to show how comprehensiveness can help neighborhoods work together to build needed affordable housing and improve schools.
Nonprofit Data Science Initiative. MDRC has carefully evaluated more than 30 major nonprofit agencies and the findings from those studies have provided a blueprint for program improvement. As part of our commitment to sustaining relationships and building capacity, MDRC is now beginning to partner with several of those agencies to create a set of advanced predictive analytics tools to help them identify clients at risk of not graduating high school, not completing training, not finding work, committing a crime, and more. These predictions are available for each individual student or program participant and use machine-learning methods to update risk predictions weekly. A hallmark of this work is that MDRC collaborates with the organizations when designing the tools and trains them how to use the tools going forward. MDRC also shares other analytical insights that are uncovered as the tools are developed.
The MDRC Center for Data Insights aims to advance a culture of rigorous, data-driven decision-making among government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations by helping them to:
Use their existing and new data to the fullest extent while meeting the highest standards for privacy and security:
We assess data systems for quality and completeness and suggest strategies for improvements.
We help programs securely integrate data from multiple sources, incorporating unstructured data (for example, text and case data) and publicly accessible data.
We build customized information systems to track programs’ participants, their use of services, and their outcomes, and we introduce novel data-collection methods (for example, with mobile and web apps).
Foster a strong analytic mindset for insightful and responsible research:
We help organizations develop analytical strategies to transform themselves into institutions of data-driven learning.
We help programs gain new insights into their programs and populations, bringing to the surface ideas for future program improvement.
We identify the right analytic tools to address particular challenges or answer particular questions.
We add new information to existing data dashboards or build new dashboards that summarize the most up-to-date information.
We train participants how to interpret results and apply them to real-world scenarios.
Use customized tools we build — and the latest advances in data science — to improve program outcomes.
We modernize case management across multiple systems.
We estimate program participants’ risks of negative outcomes, allowing organizations to rank and target individuals or sites for interventions that are designed to be more effective for different risk levels.
Figure out next steps based on analytic results and new insights and evaluate their success.
We bring to bear MDRC’s deep knowledge of the evidence base in many areas of social policy research.
We collaborate with MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) to develop innovative, low-cost interventions based on research from behavioral science (which includes behavioral economics, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and organizational behavior).
We rapidly measure the short-term impacts of new interventions or program refinements.