Here are 11 things a legislature could consider to change the way people work together, and to improve the measurable well-being of children, families and communities.

1. Create a special committee to assess the overall well-being of children and families: There is no need to start by changing the existing committee structure. It may make sense, however to create a new standing committee or task force to look issues of child and family well-being which cross committee boundaries. For example, no single committee is responsible for children ready for school or young people staying out of trouble, or for helping communities deal with coordinating services across agencies. These matters touch the responsibilities of many committees. A select committee, with top leadership, could take on the job of looking at how families and children are doing across these boundaries, and what kinds of actions by state, local and private partners could make a difference.

2. Establish results and indicators of child and family well-being: Encourage or require the establishment of a set of results and indicators for children and families. Encourage or require reporting at least annually (and preferably more often) on how children are doing. Encourage or require the use of baselines (not just point in time reporting) as the way of assessing progress.

3. Hold results hearings for one or more results: Choose one result (such as children ready for school) and hold a hearing. Since the subject will cross committee lines make it a joint committee meeting. Call before the committee a panel of department heads and ask:

  • What measures do you use to tell if children in this state are ready for school?
  • How are we doing on those indicators?
  • Who are the partners who have a role to play in doing better?
  • What works to do better (including what’s worked elsewhere’ and no cost low cost ideas?)
  • How do you propose to work together on a joint strategy to improve?

Allow partners to testify. Make this an annual event and get better each year. If this proves useful, pick a second result for a similar hearing.

4. Create a family and children’s budget: Make this a requirement of the executive branch budget submission. It shouldn’t require more than a half time position to coordinate production of the first versions of this. Require the inclusion of all programs which benefit children and families with children. Require that the budget document get better over time, so that it includes summaries of spending by functions across agency lines, and analyses of the short and long term costs and benefits of investments in children and families. Consider issuing an addendum after legislative action on the budget.

5. Use performance measures to monitor agencies and programs: Require agencies to select the 3 or 4 most important performance measures for each program. Use the Finance Project methodology or some other disciplined approach to separate the wheat from the chaff. Make sure that the measures address the questions:

  • How well are we delivering service?
  • How are people better off as a consequence of our service?

This last question is about “client (customer, patient or student) results.” Then ask for the creation of baselines for the most important measures. And ask agencies to report on how they are doing in relation to their own performance baseline, what partners have a role to play in doing better. what works to do better, what is their proposed action plan, and how is that reflected in the budget?

6. Encourage the creation of cross system collaboratives: Consider legislation which encourages or requires the creation of local (county or community) cross system collaboratives. Make sure such collaboratives have broad representation. Ask collaboratives to establish a set of results and indicators for children and families in their county or community. Ask them to take on the challenge of turning one curve this year. Provide support for these efforts through the state departments and/or the state children’s cabinet or similar structure. Give state agencies the ability to waive rules (bust barriers) in order to support a local turn the curve effort.

7. Authorize trading fund flexibility for Results-Based Accountability: Consider legislation which authorizes the negotiation of a trade of fund flexibility for Results-Based Accountability. Look at the work on Iowa’s Decategorization program and work in other states. Allow local collaborative entities to receive a package of prevention and remediation funds as a block provided both sides can negotiate appropriate incentives and safeguards. Make the major incentive the ability to keep savings from remediation and spend it on prevention. Allow savings to be rolled across fiscal years.

8. Create a cost of bad results analysis: Prepare this analysis annually and use it to show the financial stakes of continuing on our current course of escalating remediation expenditures for children and families. Include all the costs, public and private, federal state and local, of remedial expenditures we would like to go down (e.g. prison costs, juvenile justice costs, child welfare costs, welfare costs, etc.). Prepare an analysis of program expenditures which are today devoted to reducing these costs (e.g. immunizations, welfare to work, recreation etc.) Require the staff to analyze and present the most cost effective investments the state can make to reduce the Cost of Bad Resuts over the next 10 years. Hold this analysis up to business investment analysis standards. Consider getting business involved in supporting this analysis.

9. Create a children and family data and research agenda: Establish a process to systematically identify the data your state needs to measure the well being of children and families on a timely basis. Consider what it would take to create the equivalent of the newspaper’s weekly business indicators report – for family and children indicators. Allocate resources to move in this direction.

10. Create a “what works” capacity in your state: This could be based at a university or other support institution. Assemble usable information on things that have worked to improve the well being of children and families. Make the information easily accessible, easy to understand by lay people. Highlight successes in your state. Assist communities in learning from each other, and replicating successful efforts.

11. Sponsor training opportunities for state and local partners: For people in the executive and legislative branches, state and local collaboratives to learn about results-based decision making, or other approaches which use data to make decisions. Consider other ways in which to advance the capacity of state and local partners to do better.

Marc11 Things a Legislature could consider to promote Results-Based Accountability