What the Experts Say

Author: Rachel Fulcher-Dawson

Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.

- Maya Angelou

The Poet Maya Angelou calls us to Informed Action here. Her words speak to LEO’s work around both knowing better (our research) and doing better (our impact) to reduce poverty in the US. At LEO, we take great pride in centering providers in all that we do. To know better, we closely collaborate with top providers to measure and quantify their impact. To do better, first and foremost, we want providers of anti-poverty programs to use our research to inform their operations. That’s what we mean when we say “use evidence.”

As LEO’s body of research has grown, so has our impetus to get the research used. But, what exactly does this look like in practice? Here are some examples of how we’re making our research actionable and impacting more lives as a result.

Federal policy impact

LEO joined with an advocacy group, TICAS, to create a research synthesis, policy agenda and community of practice. This community of practice has now met quarterly for two years of positive mutual support for the eight providers running model programs as well as LEO, TICAS, and MDRC. This group helped advocate for federal funding for evidence-based student success programs, which led to a new $5M Postsecondary Student Success Grant Program in 2022 and increased funding of $45 M in 2023. That is one way LEO is getting evidence used— by getting more evidence-based programs funded and more students served.

Program improvement

LEO is often asked, but what happens when your research shows a program does NOT work? Or does NOT have the impact expected? Again, we center our work on our providers. If the research shows that a program doesn’t help the population it’s serving, LEO shares this back with our provider partners who then use that knowledge to make program decisions and changes. For example, at Catholic Charities Fort Worth, LEO’s research found that giving community college students emergency cash alone had little effect on their ability to stay in school;  rather, students benefited when they got both emergency cash AND case management. As a result, CCFW decided to end the cash-only program and focus on the case management model. This is just one example of another way LEO gets evidence used—program improvements.

Increased funding for programs

The Bridges to Success program in Rochester, New York utilizes mentors with wrap-around support to help people permanently move out of poverty. LEO’s study of the Bridges program showed initial promising results, which allowed the partners (ABC and CSS) to secure additional funding to serve more clients. As LEO’s study has continued and shows a positive impact of the program on participants, the partners are again using the evidence to lend credibility to their efforts to raise funds to serve more clients. This is another way LEO gets evidence used—by empowering providers with independent, credible evidence that their programs work, allowing providers to secure additional funding and serve more people.

Expansion and scaling

LEO’s partner, the Goodwill Excel Center already has a national presence and ambitious goals to scale and replicate their program across the country. Their program supports adults who did not complete high school, by providing wrap around supports to enable them to complete their high school degrees. LEO’s research shows this program is effective in boosting employment and earnings. As such, LEO has supported Excel’s work to scale up the program across Indiana and to get it started in Arizona. One barrier Goodwill Excel Center has been facing is expanding to other states because most states have policies that you cannot go to high school if you are over the age of 21. So, the Goodwill Excel Center went on a mission to change state policies. And what did they find was the key to unlocking state policy? The evidence they built with LEO. To support this scaling effort, LEO submitted written testimony to the Arizona legislature advocating for evidence building and use of evidence in policy making. And in August 2021, Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, announced the state is investing $12 million for Goodwill Excel Centers. This is another way LEO gets evidence used—by advocating for evidence use and funding of evidence-based programs by state policymakers.