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Commentary: Efforts To Boost D.C. Jobs Suffer For Lack Of Information

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Marina Streznewksi, Executive Director for the D.C. Jobs Council

How do you make a good decision without good information?

You probably don't.

While some good decisions can be made with intuition alone, they are few and far between. Most good decisions require good information -- and good data -- especially when a choice involves spending a lot of money.

That is a major, but often invisible, obstacle to the District's efforts to promote economic opportunity for residents. The city simply does not have the data needed to assess how well we are investing in job training, adult education, and economic development.

The District government supports many programs to improve the skills and work-readiness of its residents. It also spends money to attract and retain businesses. Yet how many of us can determine if these programs work? Are residents increasing their skills or getting jobs? Are employers finding good-quality staff? And just how many good jobs did that economic development project generate?

Without information, we can't tell what's working, what's not working, or how we can improve. All we have are statistics on unemployment and poverty and a lot of very sincere assurances that people are working very hard on the problem. 

That's not good enough. 

The District needs to dramatically improve its ability to generate, use and share data to track progress.  And to create real change, we must embrace necessarily disruptive acts that will require political will and stamina.

  • First, we must agree on core performance measures for education and training programs, making sure not to penalize those who serve residents with serious barriers to employment.
  • Second, we need to plan and budget to help government agencies, contractors and grantees collect and use data, assess themselves against performance standards, and carry out quality improvement efforts.  
  • Third, we need to use performance data to make funding decisions.  Programs that cannot demonstrate effectiveness or quality improvement plans should not be funded. 

These ideas should also apply to philanthropic funds.  Public and private funders should work together to streamline reporting requirements. 

We are not suggesting this effort will be quick or easy.  But by investing in a concerted effort to improve data systems and shift to an evidence-based culture, District leaders can leave a legacy of economic opportunity. 

Information is power. Let's harness that power to make this a better city that offers opportunity to all residents.

Marina Streznewksi is the executive director of the D.C. Jobs Council. "

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