Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis: Evidence-Informed Resources for Practitioners and Policymakers

In response to this unprecedented crisis, MDRC is gathering lessons from research and from the experience of its partners to share with practitioners and policymakers as they navigate today’s challenging environment and plan for the future. Check back often for new resources.

MDRC is here to help. Our research, evaluation, and technical assistance experts are partnering with nonprofit and public agencies in many cities and states. We are offering free consultations for public and nonprofit agencies to support program adaptation to meet the emerging needs of families, adults, students, and at-risk youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Policy options for recovery

Career and Technical Education Connects the Dots

10/2020 | Rachel Rosen

The economic recession triggered by the global pandemic has magnified the need for high-quality programs that can help students acquire the skills, training, and postsecondary credentials they need to thrive in the workplace. Here are some programs that studies show improved academic outcomes and increased earnings.

08/2020 | Alexander Mayer, Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, which originally appeared in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, MDRC’s Alex Mayer and Alyssa Ratledge describe evidence-backed strategies that colleges can employ this fall to help students stay engaged.


Leigh Parise interviews MDRC Senior Vice President Dan Bloom about subsidized employment, which uses public funds to create jobs for the unemployed and which is especially useful during economic downturns. As policymakers respond to pandemic-induced mass joblessness, subsidized jobs can be designed to reach the most disadvantaged. Bloom explains how.

How Place-Based Employment Programs like Jobs Plus Can Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic

07/2020 | Nandita Verma

Employment programs situated within public housing developments are facing multiple challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With routine operations disrupted by shelter-in-place orders, programs like Jobs Plus can find creative ways to keep their doors open and their clients engaged.

05/2020 | Camielle Headlam, Caitlin Anzelone

Students navigating the COVID-19 pandemic are facing new practical and financial concerns about continuing their studies. Colleges can encourage continued enrollment and boost student success by sending well-designed messages that address those concerns, simplify information, and offer support. This Issue Focus highlights proven strategies for communicating effectively.

05/2020 | Cynthia Miller

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the nation’s awareness of the critical role that low-wage workers — cashiers, nursing assistants, delivery people — play in our lives. MDRC’s Cynthia Miller summarizes research about how expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit can effectively supplement their earnings and lead to other positive benefits for them and their families.

The Critical Role of Nonprofits, Public Agencies, and Social Enterprises

04/2020 | Dan Bloom

The surging unemployment rate brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to remain unusually high for many months. The findings from two large-scale studies suggest that public/nonprofit employers are much more likely to hire disadvantaged workers whose wages are subsidized than are private, for-profit employers.

Profiles of innovative programs

10/2020 | Marcia Ballinger

In this commentary, originally published in Community College Daily, President Marcia Ballinger of Lorain County Community College describes how Lorain’s comprehensive student success program, SAIL, has persevered during the pandemic — and offered lessons for school’s overall response to COVID-19.

How Child First Is Adapting to the COVID-19 Pandemic

08/2020 | Mervett Hefyan

Home visiting programs like Child First are a vital support system for families coping with challenges such as homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, and maternal depression. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Child First teams have transitioned to telehealth technology to maintain their relationships with families and provide them with much-needed services.

An Interview with Monisha Gibson

07/2020 | Amena Sengal

Monisha Gibson, director and CEO of the Maritime Odyssey Preschool in Norwalk, Connecticut, discusses the program’s work with its vulnerable student and family population. The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many changes, but Odyssey has taken on new partners to sustain its holistic community approach: prenatal support, food distribution, and connections to mental health services, and quality preschool programming. Odyssey now offers technology support and continues its preschool teacher training for interested members of its community.

07/2020 | Nina Castells

A Better Life is an economic mobility program operating in four housing authorities in Massachusetts. This brief discusses how the program has shifted to meet residents’ dramatically different needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Interview with Karen Pennington and Dawn Slinkard


Tulsa Community WorkAdvance is a sector-based training and career advancement program that prepares people for jobs in the health care field. Executive Director Karen Pennington talks about the impact of COVID-19 on operations and future opportunities in health care, and graduate Dawn Slinkard describes her experience in the program.

07/2020 | Hannah Dalporto, Will Swarts

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced an abrupt shift to virtual educational interactions, which has hit career and technical education programs especially hard. MDRC’s recent (virtual) discussion with representatives of 13 schools, districts, and programs that provide work-based learning found each of them seizing unexpected opportunities amid considerable challenges as they pivot from hands-on experiential learning to virtual instruction and work. These organizations, which offer internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, career mentoring, and other work-related programs, are adapting to keep serving their students. 

An Interview with Jenny Taylor


Jenny Taylor, vice president of career services for Goodwill of North Georgia, describes her successful subsidized jobs program targeting noncustodial parents (mostly fathers), how it has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it could be expanded to serve more people.

An Interview with Gregg Keesling


RecycleForce is a social enterprise in Indianapolis that provides subsidized jobs to citizens returning from prison. MDRC interviewed its president, Gregg Keesling, about how his program works and what effect COVID-19 has had on his company and employees.

Providing Remote Support Services to College Students

04/2020 | Katie Beal, Colleen Sommo, Alyssa Ratledge

SUCCESS, a comprehensive coaching program designed to improve college graduation rates among low-income students, has quickly transitioned during the pandemic. It is offering virtual advising appointments, adapting meeting topics to include tips for distance learning, and connecting students with local resources including food, health care, and emergency financial aid.

Tips and strategies

Rapid Innovation and Ideas for the Future

09/2020 | Alyssa Ratledge, Hannah Dalporto, Erika Lewy

The pandemic has exacerbated postsecondary education issues in rural areas that have affected students and communities for decades, such as the lack of adequate broadband infrastructure. In response, educators are developing innovative strategies that may be applicable to all institutions, not just those with a preponderance of rural students.

Supporting Teachers’ Use of Technology for Remote Instruction

08/2020 | Emma Alterman

As the need for distance learning in some form continues due to COVID-19, lessons from an intervention that integrates technology coaching into a curriculum can help schools create support structures for teachers adopting new digital tools and could lead to significant gains in student learning.

Adapting the Evidence for 2020 and Beyond

06/2020 | Rebekah O'Donoghue, Alyssa Ratledge

MDRC has studied a number of strategies for helping students stay in college and succeed there. Lessons from some of these models may be readily adapted to support students and close equity gaps now and after the COVID-19 pandemic. This Issue Focus offers three lessons taken from MDRC’s evaluations.

Practical Advice from Richard Guare and Colin Guare

06/2020 | Annie Utterback, Gloriela Iguina-Colón, Donna Wharton-Fields

This Issue Focus offers guidance to social service programs seeking to help participants progress toward their goals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Techniques are described for alleviating social isolation, communicating remotely, setting and achieving goals, getting medication, assessing workplace safety, applying for public benefits, working from home, and managing grief.

06/2020 | Barbara Condliffe

Implementation researchers can be good partners to program operators at this difficult time — by being sensitive to the new constraints that programs face, by assessing how learning agendas and evaluation plans need to change, and by helping programs learn from the adaptations they are making in response to the pandemic.

06/2020 | Donna Wharton-Fields, Annie Utterback

Here are MDRC’s Top Five Tips for social service and educational programs adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines can help ensure staff members’ and participants’ personal safety so that agencies can continue providing high-quality services and support while working remotely. They also include guidance on protecting participant confidentiality and keeping sensitive personal information secure.

Three Insights from Research

06/2020 | Dan Cullinan

The COVID-19 pandemic means community colleges cannot administer in-person tests to determine whether students must take developmental (remedial) courses. But some colleges were already using multiple pieces of information for course placement, rather than a single test score. This brief offers three relevant insights from research on these placement systems.

An Interview with Bridgette Gray

05/2020 | Alissa Stover, Frieda Molina

The loss of almost 40 million jobs in the 10 weeks since the U.S. outbreak of the coronavirus makes demand-driven occupational skills training truly essential. Bridgette Gray, chief impact officer at Per Scholas, a sector-based training and career advancement program, shares tips for retooling to meet the demand for remote services. The organization successfully transitioned 521 students and 200 staff members to a virtual training environment over a single, remarkable week in March 2020.

05/2020 | Caitlin Anzelone, Emily Marano, Ilana Brody

Expanded eligibility guidelines and flexible funding options can support wider access to child care during the COVID-19 emergency, but only if parents and child care workers know how to navigate them. Agencies can use behavioral science research insights to make communications clear and concise and simplify the application process.

05/2020 | Mohammed Alkurd

Building connections among staff members can feel especially challenging in a time when remote work and video conference calls make up most of our working day. Icebreaker activities are fun, useful tools that managers, supervisors, training facilitators, and coaches can use to enliven meetings and strengthen team and group bonds. This post highlights some of the icebreaker activities that programs use internally, and some of the ones MDRC’s technical assistance teams use when working with programs. The exercises are separated into ones that work well in short online gatherings and ones that help break up longer sessions.

05/2020 | Ilana Brody, Rekha Balu

The COVID-19 pandemic has made written communication even more important. The checklist in this post incorporates principles of behavioral science to help organizations assess their current communications and get their point across more effectively.

04/2020 | Faith Lewis, Seth Muzzy

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, researchers are considering the implications of moving on-site data collection with program staff and participants to virtual settings. This post from the Implementation Research Incubator offers advice about switching from in-person focus groups to virtual focus groups.

04/2020 | Samantha Wulfsohn, Zaina Rodney, Rebecca Behrmann

As programs across the country adjust to working and serving clients in the context of COVID-19, many of us are spending considerable chunks of our days on conference calls and group meetings. We’re expanding on our February post that shared ideas on how to organize effective, engaging remote learning communities, with tips for establishing connections between groups that meet virtually for check-ins and training. We’re expanding on that theme with tips to help you run remote group meetings with staff, stakeholders, and participants and stay productive in this uncertain, unsettling time.


Social services agencies are mobilizing to support clients’ resilience and ability to recover from the health and economic impacts caused by COVID-19. Behavioral science research on decision making in contexts of scarcity, including tests of interventions in social services settings, offers useful guidance for staff adapting to today’s evolving challenges.

04/2020 | D. Crystal Byndloss

School closures have left many high school students without in-person access to the advisers and counselors they were relying on to help them transition to college. Crystal Byndloss offers resources from MDRC’s College Match Project to help advisers provide virtual assistance.

04/2020 | Evan Weissman, Julia Schmidt

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 has more than $6 billion in emergency aid for students. Research from MDRC and others points to several lessons that can help colleges distribute emergency aid promptly and equitably, and to the students who need it most.

02/2020 | Samantha Wulfsohn, Zaina Rodney, Rebecca Behrmann

One-time training rarely results in long-term shifts in working practices, but remote learning communities can help reinforce new lessons and promote lasting change. Program staff working toward common goals can meet regularly, connecting online and via video and telephone conferencing, and work toward shared learning objectives in a structured virtual environment. Skilled facilitators can act as guides and sounding boards, and ongoing discussions may help staff incorporate new ideas into their work. In this post, we share what we’ve learned about organizing successful remote learning communities through the Building Bridges and Bonds and the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Con­tempt projects.