Now & Next: DU and Colorado team up to make government more efficient

The University of Denver's Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise will evaluate state programs to see what's working --  and what isn't. The partnership is modeled after a similar program in Rhode Island.
State government must use its limited resources to provide a huge range of services to Colorado residents. A new partnership between the Governor’s Office and the University of Denver (DU) will study such expenditures, investigating how to make them as effective as possible.

The Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at DU is excited to announce the establishment of a new Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab. The Lab, funded by a generous grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, will be a partnership between Colorado state government and the Colorado research community.

Here's how it will work:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne will consult with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government. They will identify a small number of state-funded programs and program areas that could benefit from evaluation.

Next, the Lab will find the best possible evaluators in each field to analyze the effectiveness of the various state programs. These researchers could be working anywhere in Colorado and beyond.

Once the evaluations are completed, they will be presented to state government with the intention that the findings will inform state policy. Over time, some programs could be improved, while in other cases state resources might be reallocated from programs that are less effective to programs that are more effective.

The Colorado Lab is modeled after similar labs in other states. The oldest is the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab (RIIPL), a partnership between Brown University and the Governor of Rhode Island. RIIPL has already produced dozens of evaluation studies, many of which are leading to greater efficiencies in state government. Here are a few examples:

RIIPL analyzed job-training programs in the Rhode Island prison system and identified those that are working better than others. Resources in state government are being reallocated accordingly.

RIIPL did an analysis of food purchases with food stamps throughout Rhode Island. They found that most purchases are done during the first half of each month and that the amount of fresh produce purchased is far greater in the first half of each month compared to the second half of each month. RIIPL has recommended that the state of Rhode Island issue food stamps twice a month – on the first and 15th – rather than once a month. They are now studying whether this changes purchasing habits and encourages people to buy healthier food more evenly throughout the course of each month.

The Barton Institute is run by Executive Director David Miller, former CEO of the Denver Foundation and former Executive Director of the Colorado Office and State Planning and Budgeting. Dr. Kristin Klopfenstein will be the director of the Lab beginning August 21.

 Rebecca Arno is Director of the Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at the University of Denver.

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