How can we make the most of resources designed to help low-income families?

State and local agencies that provide services to low-income families to achieve self-sufficiency are increasingly looking to incorporate better data into decision making around policies, programs, and practices in an effort to improve outcomes and make efficient use of scarce taxpayer dollars. High-quality data will support research to build evidence around what works to improve self-sufficiency. The Family Self-Sufficiency Data Center (FSSDC) was established to help state administrators and researchers access, link, and analyze administrative data related broadly to family self-sufficiency. These relevant programs include, but are not limited to, Temporary Assistance to Need Families, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and other food assistance programs, workforce development and training programs, early care and education, and health insurance.

Funded through the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Family Self-Sufficiency Data Center will provide an empirical, data-driven research platform for administrators, policymakers, and researchers to use in answering fundamental policy and program questions. Ultimately, the Data Center seeks to contribute to a knowledge base that can be translated into better policy and practice.

The FSS Data Center is a partnership with Harris Public Policy, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, NORC at the University of Chicago, and Orlin Research. The principal investigator is Robert Goerge and the co-PI is Scott Allard, both recognized experts in family self-sufficiency research. Collectively, the team has expertise in executing data sharing agreements, data management (including cleaning, linking, and visualizing data), data analysis, and communicating and applying findings from data. The broad mandate of the Data Center is to apply those skills to help states better use data in understanding family self-sufficiency. This five-year project, funded from 2013–18, involves four activities: a needs assessment; data development; research and data support; and outreach and collaboration.

The FSSDC completed a Needs Assessment in 2014, which collected information from federal, state, and local administrators and researchers about family self-sufficiency research, availability of state data, and requirements and needs of the data-user community. The results of the Needs Assessment are being used to guide development of the Data Center’s outreach and technical assistance strategy. NORC’s Data Enclave and the Orlin Data System form the technical infrastructure for the Data Center. Central to this work is the FSSDC Data Tool, an online data management and analytic system that can be customized for states. We are currently holding demonstrations of the tool with interested states, and showing how the tool can be used for various state data needs. For example, we demonstrate how the data tool can be used to analyze TANF and SNAP case dynamics and trends.

The FSS Data Center will provide users with research and data support. A metadata archive and a flexible data access, management, and file creation system will be developed to help users search and understand their data, perform recodes and restructure tasks, link records across time or other categories, and create and use appropriate analysis files. Modeling and technical support will also be provided to both data providers and users, targeted at issues of family self-sufficiency. Finally, analytic resources will be available to help users who need to analyze data quickly or have limited internal analytic capacity.

The FSS Data Center team will reach out to potential users through academic, public agency, and practitioner-professional networks, websites, e-mail lists, conferences, and other venues. Collaboration with stakeholders involves an internal advisory group and participation in OPRE’s Family Self-Sufficiency and Stability Research Consortium, which includes the Scholars Network and the Advancing Welfare and Self-Sufficiency Research Project (Project AWESOME).

As the FSSDC begins working closely with states, what we learn will be disseminated broadly at conferences and workshops, to professional leadership organizations and through written products.

Robert Goerge

Lecturer; Senior Fellow; Senior Advisor for Masters Program in Computational Analysis and Public Policy

Robert Goerge

Robert M. Goerge is Senior Fellow and a Senior Advisor to the Master's Degree in Computational Analysis in Public Policy.