14: Evidence-based policy making – Centre for Economic Opportunity

The former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg launched the Centre for Economic Opportunity (CEO) in 2006 in response to the recommendations put forward by a commission analysing the causes and consequences of poverty in the city.111 The CEO’s remit is to identify, fund and evaluate solutions to lift families and individuals out of poverty. Around half of the Centre’s time and resources are focused on improving young people’s employment prospects through education, skills development and access to job opportunities.

The CEO provides a platform for ideas to be shared and generated. It plays a convening role, working with organisations such as the Youth Development Institute and the Workforce Professionals Training Institute in the city, to share lessons and inform the design of new programmes. The Centre attracts new innovators and it imports ideas; half the ideas in the CEO’s pipeline are from elsewhere.

The Centre has piloted close to 70 anti-poverty initiatives since its inception. These include asset development, education, workforce development, health and justice programmes. It works with 14 different evaluation and technical assistance partners to monitor and evaluate all of its programmes. Programmes are closely monitored from the outset, reporting monthly and quarterly, and with approaches altered if necessary. Monitoring plays an important role in informing the timing and method of evaluation too. While randomised control trials (RCTs) are the gold standard in evaluation, conducting them is not always appropriate. With over 50 evaluations conducted in the last seven years, nine were RCTs.

Between 2006 and 2012/13, 17 programmes have been discontinued. Others have been continued and expanded. Five of the CEO’s initiatives are being replicated in other cities across the US in recognition of their high impact. The CEO has also won an award for Innovation in American Government from Harvard University. Alongside the identification and expansion of a number of successful initiatives, the capacity building nature of the CEO’s work means that other organisations are adopting new approaches in their work and ultimately serving their clients better. It has also helped encourage a culture of innovation among city agencies and service providers more widely.

There are a number of reasons the CEO has been successful in achieving its ambitions. Firstly, it has a significant budget – between 2006 and 2013 it has totalled approximately $657 million – and private foundations are attracted by the strong evaluation component and its transparent use of data. Second, funding the CEO through a city tax levy and the donations of private dollars from foundations, businesses and individuals gives the CEO funding flexibility, allowing programmes that are untested or potentially controversial to be funded entirely through private contributions rather than public money. Third, as mentioned previously, being structured as part of the Mayor’s Office signals that the CEO is a priority for the Mayor and gives it influence in other departments. And fourth, the CEO rewards innovation and risk-taking and has established itself as a ‘safe place’ for risk taking.

The CEO still faces a number of challenges, however. While the CEO was set up to break down the silos in government, many still exist. Parts of the Department of Education with responsibility for similar programmes to the CEO, for example, aren’t aware of the CEO’s work. Data sharing has a large part to play in this and at the moment there is no common platform to share data across the city’s agencies.


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