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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Heather Weiss

The devolution of authority and responsibility for family and child services to the state and local levels provides significant opportunities to design programs that are more relevant, more timely, and more effective. Such flexibility has required that states develop comprehensive accountability systems to monitor and evaluate the results of their programs. The development of such systems offers challenges not only in articulation of goals and measurable results, but also in the areas of service integration, governance and authority, and resource allocation.

Our new Results-Based Accountability Project, funded through a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, is intended to support and build upon recent state efforts to develop accountability systems for child and family services programs. The Project is studying the approaches of several states in designing and implementing accountability systems. We planned this issue of our newsletter to disseminate some of our preliminary findings about these systems to others.

We begin with an overview of accountability systems, discussing both the opportunities and challenges they present, as well as brief descriptions of two states—Minnesota and Oregon—that have developed results-based accountability systems. Results-based accountability systems obviously need indicators to measure whether or not results have been achieved. Kristen Moore and Brett Brown of Child Trends bring us up-to-date on the field of child indicators in the 1990s. Nancy Dunton, with the New York State Department of Social Services, discusses some of the challenges to data capacity for outcome-based accountability. As Ms. Dunton points out in her article, more county and sub-county data will be needed with even more decision making devolving to localities under federal and state block grants. In our Question & Answer section, Susan Fuhrman, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, answers three questions on the challenges—political, technical, and financial—states face in developing such systems. Finally, Jean Layzer of Abt Associates, Inc. examines theories of change in family support programs.

One of the problems we have encountered in discussing accountability systems is the terminology: the terms used in this field mean different things to different people. In the lead article by HFRP's researcher, Karen Horsch, the terms largely reflect those used by Jack A. Brizius and Michael D. Campbell in their book, Getting Results: A Guide for Government Accountability (1991). Generally, in our Project, we use the term “results” rather than “outcomes,” but we have not changed the terminology used by our contributing authors.

This newsletter is part of our information dissemination strategy to share, in a timely manner, lessons we are learning about results-based accountability. Our strategy is to highlight the efforts of states and localities and to facilitate communication among those involved in these efforts. For example, the annotated bibliography we have produced showcases the work of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers, and provides readers with a list of valuable resources. In the summer, we plan to release a resource guide describing selected states' efforts to develop results-based accountability. We also plan to share information we are learning from our field work in Oregon and Minnesota in the summer newsletter. In addition, we are providing technical assistance to those who are planning and developing such systems, and sharing the information we are learning from our work. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding our efforts, or if you have information you would like to share on this topic.

In closing, I would like to express how pleased we are to be a part of the dialogue about the challenges and opportunities posed by performance measurement and results-based accountability. We look forward to working with others in the development of systems and solutions to improve the services provided to America's children and families.


Heather B. Weiss, Ed.D.
Founder & Director
Harvard Family Research Project

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project