PROJECTSupporting Working Families with Policy, Evidence, and Data

  • Project Home
  • Education and Workforce Development Policy
  • Housing and Community Development Policy
  • Using Data and Evidence in State Policies and Programs
  • Health Care and Human Services Policy

  • Body

    Spotlight on Better Budgeting Practices

    Every year, or every other year, states face the challenge of creating budgets that address the needs of their residents while maintaining their short- and long-term fiscal health. States take varying approaches to spending, some more sustainable than others. Learning from their peers across the country and relying on research-based evidence can help states adopt better budgeting practices.

    Using Data and Evidence in State Policies and Programs

    An Urban Institute Briefing for State Leaders

    There are more opportunities than ever before to use data, research, and evidence to help make better policy decisions. Every year, state leaders are finding ways to harness data to unlock solutions, target new policy interventions, and measure success. Innovators can use these approaches and tools to get better outcomes from their scarce public resources.

    Putting Evidence-Based Policymaking into Practice

    Urban Institute researchers work directly with state leaders at multiple levels to develop the knowledge and skills to put evidence-based policymaking into action.

    Urban experts make several policy recommendations for state leaders:

    Improve the annual budgeting process: State governments can borrow from the private sector to analyze costs and benefits in budgeting. Governors can also encourage evidence-based budgeting, which uses performance metrics to track efficiency and ensure that public funds are driving outcomes and impact. The 16 states already using these techniques can be used for inspiration.

    Leverage administrative data for better performance, research, and evaluation: Through their daily operations, states collect a vast array of administrative data that can be mined for programmatic evidence. These data also can be leveraged to rigorously evaluate programs without needing a separate data-collection process.

    Use new, low-cost approaches to measure success: Quick testing methods from the technology sector, such as A/B testing or rapid cycle evaluation, allow state leaders to experiment with program implementation at minimal additional cost. Rapid-cycle evaluation has been used at the US Department of Education to help educators determine which classroom technologies are effective.

    Develop a research or learning agenda: State leaders can develop learning agendas that raise key research questions and help address critical knowledge gaps about a public policy area or program. Learning agendas can help leaders prioritize what they need to know to improve future program decisions and are built with the engagement of key stakeholders.

    Improve agency grantmaking: States can better incentivize grantees and local partners to use evidence-based practices. Federal agencies have used tiered-evidence grantmaking to offer larger shares of the grant pool to evidence-based programs—an approach that states could replicate. States can take additional approaches to tie grants to outcomes, such as implementing pay for success financing and using evidence to direct mandatory spending.

    Resources That Answer Questions

    Work Binders

    Evaluation Toolkit

    What are the best ways to evaluate pay for success projects?
    Read more

    Person typing on computer

    PFS Project Assessment Tool

    What is pay for success, and when is it a good fit for states?
    Read more

    To connect with policy experts at Urban, email Amy Elsbree at

    Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization. Urban’s policy experts translate research findings and data findings for diverse audiences, apply insights to real-world problems to find solutions, and share their recommendations with policymakers at every level. 

    Urban Institute, as an organization, does not take positions on legislation or policy issues. Urban’s experts are empowered to follow the evidence to provide policy recommendations based on their research and expertise. The recommendations expressed here should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. This resource was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through the Urban Institute’s Low-Income Working Families initiative.

    Tags Families with low incomes