Disrupting the Justice Evaluation Model

Angela Hawken on Rapid Cycle Innovation in the Public Sector

Professor Angela Hawken recently sat down with Matthew Watkins for the Center for Court Innovation's New Thinking podcast. Their conversation offers an excellent overview of Hawken's BetaGov initiative, which is aimed at improving the performance of public agencies — including those involved in criminal justice — by fostering rapid cycle innovation. Hawken discusses the benefits of empowering public sector practitioners to conduct their own trials of new policies and processes and talks about where she sees her research agenda headed next. From the podcast synopsis:

Identifying problems in the justice system and seeing whether reforms have actually made a difference require data and evaluation. But Angela Hawken, a professor of public policy at New York University, says too many programs are never properly tested, in part because the conventional evaluation process is too cumbersome and expensive. And she worries those barriers effectively give a small group of institutions and researchers a monopoly over deciding what becomes an "evidence-based" practice worthy of replication.

Adopting the mindset of a more nimble startup, with support from private funders, Hawken founded BetaGov. It offers free and fast evaluations of public policy programs. Like the institutions conducting what she calls "Cadillac" research, BetaGov employs randomized controlled trials—the "gold standard" in evaluations—but unlike its Cadillac counterparts, BetaGov's experiments are designed to produce results quickly, and the ideas being tested generally come from inside the systems themselves—whether from practitioners, or even clients, such as incarcerated persons. Currently, BetaGov is supporting more than 200 trials across the country.

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Tile photo by Jeremy Galliani.

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