October 20, 2016Op-ed

Medium: Partnering With the White House and My Brother’s Keeper to Showcase What Works

by Nichole Dunn

Nonprofit/ 2016/

Recently, our organization, Results for America, was proud to partner with the White House Office of Social Innovation, My Brother’s Keeper, the U.S. Department of Education, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to host the inaugural My Brother’s Keeper What Works Showcase. The showcase featured 33 organizations and interventions from around the country that have or are in the process of building rigorous evidence of impact for solutions that are helping all young people, including boys and young men of color, achieve their full potential.

When President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper in 2014, he said that the initiative is about “building on what works.” There are many organizations that intend to help young boys and men of color, but what sets My Brother’s Keeper apart is that it focuses on those organizations that are actually producing results. As Virgil Jones, the CEO of Bottom Line, said at the White House Showcase at the White House, “We have an obligation to the students we are serving. I do not want students to be part of a program that does not work.” Promoting what works is in everyone’s interest.

Results for America has partnered with lawmakers to increase government’s use of rigorous data when making policy decisions — and an embrace of evidence-based policymaking is taking hold. Program funding was once largely influenced by special interests, instincts, or political inertia, but now policymakers are increasingly open to looking at evidence and funding programs based on what works. As Results for America CEO and co-founder Michele Jolin said at the White House, “There has been a sea change in the way policymakers respond to data.”

Non-profit organizations are also leading the way in the effort to collect and use data to improve outcomes and can be an important partner to government — helping policymakers identify successful programs and learn what works in communities.

In fact, many of the organizations present at the Showcase shared what they’ve learned. Many have embraced randomized control trials to determine whether their work is accomplishing its objectives — despite the disruptions and the cost. One such organization is Becoming a Man (BAM), which counsels at-risk youth. Two randomized controlled studies showed that young men were 50 percent less likely to be arrested if they were in the BAM program, and 19 percent more likely to graduate from high school on-time. Non-profits like BAM are an essential partner for government, providing community services and creating social change, as well as showing that they’re willing to do the hard work of learning what works. What non-profits want, however is to know that government is listening — and that they’ll change the way they fund programs, embracing successful initiatives.

Indeed, gathering evidence is important, but it is not useful unless leaders act on what they learn. We know more than ever about what works to improve lives but policymakers must use this data, and fund programs that work and stop funding programs that don’t work. As Dave Wilkinson, the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation put it at the event, “We need funders to value a randomized control trial more than a glossy picture of a kid on a slide.” This applies to policymakers, too.
This event made clear we don’t have to choose between rigorous data and Wilkinson’s ‘kid on a slide.’ The best way to advocate for what works is to combine the power of rigorous data with the stories about how it impacts peoples’ lives. After all, data are a tool — at the end of the day, this effort is about how we can improve outcomes and change lives for the better. That’s why we need to use rigorous data, yes, but pair that effort with the stories of lives changed.


If we are going to change lives, we need to make programs work for as many people as possible. That task requires us to not just gather data, but also change the way that lawmakers look at data. The My Brother’s Keeper What Works Showcase showed how far the movement to invest in what works has come and the urgency of building on this momentum to improve outcomes in the future.

Interested in learning more about this great event? You can watch the entirety of the morning session here: