Exemplary TANF Data Users Show Strong Communication, Collaboration, and Partnerships

By using data effectively, TANF agencies can understand how programs work for the families they serve and improve them. To identify characteristics of agencies that use data well, we categorized data use in state TANF agencies and examined characteristics associated with exemplary data use. We discuss accessible strategies to promote the use of data and disseminate analyses so that policymakers can use evidence to improve TANF for participating children and families. This brief is the second in a series, following Unpacking Data Use in State TANF Agencies

What We Did

We collected data from two sources: (1) an online needs assessment survey completed by 48 of the 54 states and territories that operate TANF and (2) a review of publicly available reports and analyses conducted with state TANF data. We used a definition of data use that emphasized the ability to use data to produce findings that evaluate programs and can inform program improvement. Our definition also emphasized transparency in data use by sharing results publicly. We used this definition to create a measure of data use and identified three categories of data use: basic, advanced, and exemplary. Next, we compared a range of TANF agency characteristics at the state level to each state’s data use score in order to understand which characteristics seem to be associated with stronger data use. Finally, we analyzed results to identify strategies and practices for promoting exemplary data use.

What We Found

  • Communication and collaboration with frontline staff, other state entities, and external partners are strongly associated with exemplary data use.
  • Staff expertise and analytic skills are not strongly associated with exemplary data use.
  • Exemplary data users were less likely to report new data systems. Technical and data infrastructure do not appear to positively impact analytic data use.

What It Means

These results offer evidence for the following practices and strategies to foster exemplary data use:

  • Encourage communication and collaboration at all phases of analysis and across staff and agencies.
  • Cultivate useful external partnerships.
  • Use technology as a support, but not as the sole solution to achieving strong data use.
  • Prioritize transparency and dissemination to reinforce quality, augment impact, and promote accountability.
Recommended Citation
Goerge, R. M., Wiegand, E. R., Monahan, E. K., & Gjertson, L. (2022). Exemplary data use by state TANF agencies. OPRE Report No 2022-133. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Human Services.

Read the brief on the OPRE website