November 9, 2016

In August 2016 NYU launched a new program called Litmus. Litmus is an interdisciplinary team of 20 researchers, who stimulate innovation in the public sector. BetaGov is a key initiative of the Litmus group. Most of our public policies—how we educate our children, rehabilitate convicted offenders, or house the homeless—have one thing in common: they have never been tested. As a result, many commonplace policies intended to make us smarter, safer, or healthier are based more on intuition than on data. BetaGov removes the barriers to conducting rigorous evaluations of policies and practices and seeks to make these assessments the norm rather than the exception, by facilitating homegrown, practitioner-led trials. With support provided at no cost by BetaGov, practitioners can carry out randomized controlled trials (RCTs) at minimal or no cost to their agencies. The private sector has long relied on simple, targeted RCTs to improve efficiency and performance. BetaGov promotes these same techniques to guide policy solutions for our most challenging social problems. BetaGov facilitates RCTs of innovations solicited from staff and clients in their agencies (in health and human services, criminal justice, education, and other domains). These tests range from small tweaks of routine practice to more-substantial operational and policy reforms. The model presents a promising alternative by devolving a share of public sector research, at the pilot level, to practitioners. This approach is engendering many hundreds of rapidly launched pilot trials a year. This presentation will provide an overview of the BetaGov approach, and will present examples from the growing repository of trials, with an emphasis on those that may be of interest to CUSP.

Angela Hawken, Ph.D., is a Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management and director of the Litmus program. She is the founder and director of BetaGov, a resource center for practitioner-led trials that provides tools to develop and conduct experimental tests of practices and policies in order to increase the pace of innovation in criminal-justice and other policy areas. She is also the founder and director of Segregation Solutions, which supports stakeholder-led innovation and research in reducing the use of solitary confinement. Additionally, she is the principal investigator of several studies that test “Swift Certain Fair” (SCF) strategies to reduce recidivism and incarceration; she led the advisory teams to the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) in its statewide rollout of Swift and Certain and to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) in its RESET parole-reform effort. She works with agencies in 14 states that are implementing and evaluating SCF in community corrections and in custody. Dr. Hawken completed a bachelor’s degree, an honors degree, and graduate coursework in economics at the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as a Ph.D. in policy analysis at the RAND Graduate School.