2020 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence Leading States Snapshots: The Who and The What

Learn about the states recognized as leaders in 2020 for their exemplary use of data and evidence to achieve better outcomes for residents.

Launched in 2018, Results for America’s annual Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence (State Standard of Excellence) serves as a “north star” for how state governments can consistently and effectively use data and evidence in budget, policy, and management decisions to achieve better outcomes for their residents. In the recently released 2020 State Standard of Excellence seven Leading States are using evidence and data to inform their COVID-19 efforts and advance economic mobility: Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington

Each of these Leading States demonstrates a commitment to publicly and transparently manage for results, use and leverage data for decision-making, build the infrastructure necessary to evaluate state programs, and fund evidence-based interventions. The following snapshots summarize each Leading State’s outstanding leadership in evidence-based policymaking to improve outcomes in the health, child welfare, education, workforce, criminal justice, and economic mobility sectors.

Visit the 2020 State Standard of Excellence here. To make progress in the State Standard of Excellence, states should visit the Blueprint for Delivering Results in State Government, an action-oriented, strategic guide for implementing evidence-based policymaking.

2020 State Standard of Excellence Leading States


Colorado aligns goal setting, performance management, and budgeting to focus state operations and spending on a unified set of priorities.

Colorado has served as a national model for using data to inform the way it does business. By building off of the Governor’s Dashboard launched in 2019, the state has demonstrated a continued commitment to harnessing data and evidence to meet its four high-priority, “bold” strategic goals. Colorado has made achieving these goals into a whole-of-government effort by creating cabinet working groups to support these efforts and explicitly linking them to the governor’s annual budget. The state also has a strong commitment to using evidence in the budget process that builds off the 2013 SMART Act, which required all state offices to submit annual performance reports as part of the state budget process.

Colorado’s evidence continuum included in budget instructions is used as an “evidence meter,” a tool for budget decision-making.

As a result, the state’s FY 2020–2021 budget development instructions prioritizes new program requests “based on the evidence and body of research supporting the program’s effect on desired outcomes and proposed implementation plan.” This reinforces the state’s commitment to prioritizing funding for those interventions that are most likely to achieve the best results for its residents. Governor Polis of Colorado emphasized this commitment to transparent, evidence-based budgeting: “One of my duties as governor is to deliver better results for the people of our great state of Colorado. For my administration, that means creating a culture of accountability, funding what works, defunding what doesn’t work, and always letting the science guide our work. In our response to COVID-19, and in everything else we do, that is what helps us get the job done.” Taken together, the coordination of statewide goal-setting, performance measurement, and budgeting ensure state agencies’ spending and operations are aligned around achieving a singular set of state priorities.

As a result of these efforts, Colorado was recognized in the areas Strategic Goals, Performance Management, and Outcome Data in the 2020 State Standard of Excellence. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Colorado examples for Data Leadership, Data Policies/ Agreements, Data Use, Evaluation Leadership, Evaluation Policies, Evidence Definition and Program Inventory, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Use of Evidence in Grant-Making, and Innovation.


Connecticut put its robust data infrastructure to work to provide vital services to children during the coronavirus pandemic

With the onset of COVID-19, Connecticut was able to use its existing enterprise data-sharing infrastructure to quickly adapt state services to meet the unique needs created by the pandemic.

For example, the state’s data-sharing capabilities played a central role in ensuring that the 287,000 Connecticut students who receive free or reduced-price meals through their schools did not go hungry when the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to close statewide.

As schools across the state closed because of the pandemic, the Connecticut Departments of Education and Social Services quickly leveraged their existing data-sharing infrastructure to link student information with data from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By linking these data sets, the state was able to identify the 82,000 students receiving meals through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs who do not already receive meal assistance through SNAP or another food assistance program. For these students, school closures would cut off their access to these meals. But through its data linking efforts, Connecticut was able to automatically enroll those students in the federal SNAP Pandemic EBT program, ensuring that all children facing food insecurity were able to access food despite pandemic-related school closures.

Connecticut’s Data Sharing Playbook supports effective enterprise-wide data sharing.

The road to this successful effort was paved by a 2018 law that created a statewide approach to sharing data across departments and allowed Connecticut to create a comprehensive data ecosystem. As a result, the statewide chief data officer works with executive agency data officers to quarterback data on the governor’s policy priorities through data integration and linkage. In support of these data activities, the state has developed a data governance body, data analytics divisions, and a statewide data plan to support strategic use of data with robust privacy measures in place.

As a result of these efforts, Connecticut was recognized in the areas Data Leadership, Data Policies/Agreements, and Data Use in the 2020 State Standard of Excellence. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Connecticut examples for Evidence Definition and Program Inventory, Evaluation Leadership, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Innovation, and Performance Management/ Continuous Improvement.


In addition to the creation of a comprehensive, equity oriented COVID-19 dashboard, Minnesota excelled in the areas of evaluation leadership and performance management in 2020.

Minnesota has become a national leader in using data to improve services, programs, and outcomes for its residents. In 2020, the state’s results-focused culture translated to a data-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota employed its data infrastructure to create a comprehensive COVID-19 data dashboard that tracks health and economic data. This dashboard contains information about the state’s response capacity as well as a race and ethnicity data dashboard to identify communities that are disproportionately impacted, in particular communities of color.

The Minnesota Inventory serves as a clearinghouse of programs operating in the state along with their evidence-rating.

This work was enabled by Minnesota’s Chief Data and Evaluation Officer Pete Bernardy, whose team has the authority, staff, and budget to collect, analyze, share, and use data to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of public programs. Beyond the COVID-19 dashboard, the state’s evidence-based policy efforts include the Minnesota Inventory (a searchable clearinghouse of more than 500 programs operating in the state), a guide for using evidence in policymaking, an evaluation policy, and evidence definitions to categorize interventions as proven effective, promising, theory based, or no effect. This infrastructure helps drive the state’s budget process, where the state used evidence to inform funding decisions resulting in $87 million in new or expanded evidence-based programming in the FY 2020–2021 budget.

As a result of these efforts, Minnesota was recognized in the areas Performance Management, Evaluation Resources, Evaluation Leadership, and Outcome Data in the 2020 State Standard of Excellence. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Minnesota examples for Data Leadership, Data Use, Evaluation Policies, Evidence Definition and Program Inventory, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Use of Evidence in Grant Programs, and Repurpose for Results.


Oregon is building a strategic data infrastructure to inform decision-making on pressing issues like COVID-19 and improve its programs.

Building on a 2017 law that established a statewide Chief Data Officer, Oregon has been expanding and coordinating the state’s data efforts. The Chief Data Officer, Kathryn Helms, leads many statewide data functions, and has helped the state leverage data for decision-making and program improvement through an enterprise memorandum of understanding.

Complementary investments in data infrastructure, including the state’s longitudinal education and workforce data system, have paid dividends through innovative new approaches such as an education pilot program designed to address the intersection of trauma and equity. A new partnership with the Oregon Health and Sciences’ University Center for Evidence Based Policy created a Child Well-Being Dashboard to link data from the Oregon Departments of Education, Early Learning, Health and Human. This work is bolstered by the state’s newly developed, centralized data strategy that highlights the importance of data-sharing across state agencies.

Oregon’s Oregon Child Integrated Dataset’s dashboards shows data from multiple agencies and datasets.

Data coordination has also been instrumental in Oregon’s COVID-19 response by matching customer workforce program participation against quarterly Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage records to develop monthly UI claims data to help inform the state’s economic recovery efforts.

These data endeavors build on Oregon’s earlier work to incorporate evidence into youth, corrections, and health programs. Starting with a 2003 law that defined evidence and required relevant agencies to “spend at least 75% of state moneys that the agency receives for programs on evidence-based programs,” Oregon has been making considerable investments in funding evidence-based programs. In fact, a 2018 follow up report found that the Youth Authority spent “90% of General Funds and almost 92% of total funds… on evidence-based programming” for state fiscal years 2017 to 2019.

As a result of these efforts, Oregon was recognized in the areas of Data Leadership, Data Policies/ Agreements, Data Use, Evidence Definition and Program Inventory, and Use of Evidence in Grant Programs. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Oregon examples for Strategic Goals, Performance Management, Outcome Data, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Innovation.


Tennessee focuses on improving program results through performance management and using evidence in its budgeting process.

To assist Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in deciding how to deliver results citizens want to see, Tennessee has leveraged its mature performance management process to track performance against its strategic goals, helping the state drive innovation, operational efficiency, and transparency. As put by Governor Lee, “We used data to help determine goals for each department and then measure outcomes. And we took it a step further in sharing the data and the outcomes with the citizens.” The state’s system, managed by the Office of Customer Focused Government (CFG), aligns the Governor’s priorities, department strategic goals, operational plans, and individual employee work outcomes. CFG continuously tracks and monitors performance data, placing publicly available operational performance on the state’s transparency and accountability website, Transparent Tennessee.

Beyond dashboards and performance management tools, the state is increasingly focused on evidence-based budgeting for making important decisions about how to best serve Tennesseans. The Office of Evidence and Impact (OEI) in the department of finance and administration leads the state’s evidence-based budgeting efforts. OEI’s key progress includes defining evidence, building program inventories, conducting evidence reviews, and providing evaluation technical assistance to state agencies. To operationalize evidence in the budgeting process, the state’s fiscal year 2020–2021 budget deliberations asked agencies to invest in evidence-based, research-informed programs; and, in areas where evidence is lacking, to consider conducting evaluations to build evidence about what works for residents.

The Tennessee Office of Evidence and Impact serves as a one-stop shop for resources and information on evidence-based budgeting and evaluation.

Tennessee’s maturing evidence-based budgeting process and performance management system allows the state to focus on investing on effective programs, including state-grown programs that deliver results for Tennessee’s communities. Because of the data-driven and evidence-based operational and management focus, supported by executive leadership, Tennessee is paving the way for other states seeking to leverage evidence in their decisions.

Tennessee was recognized in the areas Strategic Goals, Performance Management/Continuous Improvement, Evaluation Leadership, Outcome Data, and Evidence Definitions and Program Inventory in the 2020 State Standard of Excellence. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Tennessee examples for Use of Evidence in Grant Programs and Evaluation Policies.


By expanding its investment in performance management and cross-agency data linkage and coordination, Utah has become a model for using evidence-based policymaking to improve outcomes for its residents.

Since 2013, Utah has committed to improving operational performance through the state’s SUCCESS Framework. The Framework helps cabinet agencies improve customer service, program performance, and outcomes for their residents. As detailed in the state’s Measurement Guide, this framework integrates the performance elements of quality, throughput, and cost to “help agencies improve quality, reduce costs, and create the capacity to do more with the same or fewer resources (improved throughput).” These and other program performance elements are reported as part of the state’s annual budget process.

Utah has published a series of strategic, data-driven plans to lead the state’s COVID-19 responses and recovery.

In recent years, these performance efforts have been further supported by the state’s Chief Data Officer Rachel Stone, appointed in 2019 to increase interagency data integration. The Chief Data Officer maintains an integrated client database to facilitate secure sharing of administrative data and improve service delivery outcomes. This focus on data was also at the core of the creation of the Utah Data Research Center which integrates data from the Utah System of Higher Education, Utah System of Technical Colleges, Utah State Board of Education, Utah Department of Health, and the Utah Department of Workforce Services to support the education and workforce policies and programs. Data also played a vital role in helping the state implement a dynamic, data-informed, and unified plan for Utah’s COVID-19 health and economic response called Utah Leads Together. Taken together, Utah’s focus on performance and data demonstrates how states can improve efficiency and effectiveness.

As a result of these efforts, Utah was recognized in the areas Strategic Goals, Performance Management/Continuous Improvement, Evaluation Policies, and Outcome Data in the 2020 State Standard of Excellence. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Utah examples for Data Leadership, Data Policies/ Agreements, Data Use, and Innovation.


Washington’s multi-dimensional evidence ecosystem brings together data, evidence, and innovation to improve results.

Washington has been a long-time leader in evidence-based policy. The seminal work on cost-benefit analysis led by Washington State Institute for Public Policy has been used by state budget offices and state legislatures across the country. Facilitated by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Results First initiative, this approach to program analysis is driving evidence-informed investment decisions in dozens of states. Further, the governor’s performance management efforts, spearheaded by Results Washington, focus on making progress toward meeting the state’s clearly defined outcome goals. From 2014 to early 2020, Results Washington conducted executive-led Results Review. The meetings, recorded and publicly posted, allowed the Governor and state agency directors to discuss objectives, improvement strategies, and metrics. Results Washington is currently refocusing its efforts toward a new Public Performance Review process that fosters partnership and focuses on the outcomes that matter to state agencies, the Governor, and ultimately the state of Washington.

In addition to evidence and performance initiatives, the state has built a strong data integration infrastructure. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services maintains an Integrated Client Database that includes 40 separate data systems from 10 state agencies and covers millions of individuals. This database has allowed the state to conduct rapid-cycle policy analyses, program evaluations, and predictive modeling. These efforts have generated tens of millions in dollars in performance payments from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and led to improved care management for persons dually enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families published an informative video about performance based contracting.

Finally, a 2017 Washington law consolidated several agencies into a new Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), requiring a shift of all contracts for client services to performance-based contracts. With the support of partner organization Third Sector, the agency is converting over 1,000 contracts that invest approximately $1 billion each biennium to support nine priority outcome goals for children, youth, and families. The project intentionally focuses on deepening stakeholder engagement, using Performance Based Contracting as a tool to advance racial equity, and facilitating continuous improvement through data and research.

As a result of these efforts, Washington was recognized in the areas Strategic Goals, Performance Management/ Continuous Improvement, Data Leadership, Data Policies/Agreements, Data Use, and Cost-Benefit Analysis in the 2020 State Standard of Excellence. The 2020 State Standard of Excellence also includes Washington examples for Evidence Definition and Program Inventory and Contracting for Outcomes.

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