Equity, Evidence, and Innovation: Highlights from 2017 at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity
This is the first annual report issued under the name of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. In May 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that two previously distinct units, the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) and HHS-Connect, were merging to become the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (“NYC Opportunity” for short).
NYC Opportunity’s work includes analyzing existing anti-poverty approaches, developing new interventions, facilitating the sharing of data across City agencies, and rigorously assessing the impact of key initiatives.
At the 10 year mark, NYC Opportunity has accomplished a great deal to promote opportunity and combat poverty in New York City. The following sections discuss some of the highlights of that decade of work, with an emphasis on the past year.
Reducing Poverty and Increasing Equity
NYC Opportunity is contributing to two important City-wide commitments core to its mission: creating and tracking the City’s first concrete poverty-reduction goal, and supporting the City’s commitment to conduct agency-focused equity assessments and action plans to reduce disparities based on race, gender, income and sexual orientation.
Partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Operations, NYC Opportunity helped shape and is supporting the implementation of three new equity laws.
Evidence to Support Scale
NYC Opportunity has also taken a leading role in assembling the kind of data necessary to help the City reduce poverty and increase equity.
CUNY ASAP, for example, which helps students earn associate’s degrees, began in 2007 serving just over 1,000 students. Between fall 2011 and fall 2012, the overall CUNY college graduation rate for associate and bachelor degrees increased from 16.9 percent to 21.1 percent, the biggest one-year increase in 20 years. Over half of this increase can be attributed to ASAP expansion in those years. Today, the City is expanding CUNY ASAP to serve 25,000 students by academic year 2018/19. This expansion will yield an additional 12,000 graduates, which will increase the overall CUNY three-year associate graduation rate from 12 percent to 34 percent by fiscal year 2022.
NYC Opportunity has also led the effort to standardize data through its Common Metrics initiative. Beginning with the workforce development system, it is creating an integrated platform to gain insight into relative performance when interventions are delivered across a range of programs and departments. NYC Opportunity collaborated with the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development and the leading City workforce agencies to establish standard definitions and verification methods for key outcomes, including clients served, full-time and part-time employment, median wage, enrollment in industry-based training, training completion, and retention rates.
Digital Products and Data
NYC Opportunity builds and manages an array of digital products that are used to improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers.
Worker Connect is designed to help caseworkers overcome information hurdles that hinder efficient and effective service delivery. It links administrative case data and documents across multiple City agencies, making them accessible through a single online portal. With Worker Connect, a caseworker can search by client to retrieve an integrated view of case information and documents from multiple City agencies in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. In 2017, NYC Opportunity released a new mobile-responsive version of Worker Connect to streamline the user experience and provide first-time access to case workers who deliver services in the field. In addition, access to Worker Connect was expanded to several units across the City whose services include healthcare interventions, homelessness prevention, and integrated case management.
ACCESS NYC is an online public screening tool that New Yorkers can use to determine their eligibility for city, state, and federal health and human service benefit programs. ACCESS NYC relaunched in March 2017 with a simplified 10-step screening process, plain-language program information, content in seven languages, a location finder, and an accessible, mobile-responsive design. The website is open source and the code is available on Github. ACCESS NYC was recognized at “The Best of New York 2017” at the New York Digital Government Summit in Albany, NY and received an award for “Best Application Serving the Public.”
Benefits and Programs API is a dataset that includes benefit, program, and resource information on health and human services available to New York City residents launch in 2017 to support ACCESS NYC, Growing Up NYC, and public applications.
Growing Up NYC, in partnership with the City’s Children’s Cabinet, brings the City’s family- and child-related resources together in a mobile-responsive, accessible platform to make it easier for parents to raise strong, healthy children and for young people to find helpful information. Initially launched in 2016, Growing Up NYC features easy-to-read age guides with developmental milestones and parenting tips, over 70 city, state, and federally funded benefits and programs. In October 2017, NYC Opportunity launched a second version, which includes resources for ages 13–24 and is available in Spanish. Growing Up NYC was recognized at the “The Best of New York City 2017 Awards” at the NYC Technology Forum in Brooklyn, NY and received the award for “Best External Application.”
NYCGov Poverty Measure
NYC Opportunity also generates the alternative poverty measure for New York City, known as the New York City Government Poverty Measure (NYCgov Poverty Measure), which is a model of innovative, rigorous data analysis. In the most recent report, released in May of 2017, the NYCgov near poverty rate, which reflects the percentage of New Yorkers who are under 150% of their poverty threshold, was significantly lower, falling from 45.1 percent to 44.2 percent. The NYCgov poverty rate fell from 20.6 percent to 19.9 percent.
A powerful example of the public-private partnership model is Connections to Care (C2C), an initiative to integrate evidence-based mental health services in communities with the greatest unmet needs. C2C trains frontline staff at community-based social service organizations to offer non-clinical mental health support, in partnership with local mental health providers. NYC Opportunity has played a key role in this work, helping to manage and rigorously evaluate the model to determine if combining mental health services with other social services can help individuals achieve better outcomes in areas such as employment, housing stability, and financial independence.
Advancing Evidence and Innovation in NYC Government
NYC Opportunity believes more solutions are required to address unmet needs and stubborn problems and that new approaches delivered through government can achieve large-scale impact.
In the last decade, NYC Opportunity has managed and evaluated over 70 demonstration projects, and in recent years its evaluation activities have expanded to include key citywide mayoral initiatives, including Pre-K for All, the universal pre-kindergarten program; ID NYC, the nation’s largest municipal ID program; new workforce initiatives developed by the Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force; and the City’s innovative Community Schools initiative.
In October of 2017, NYC Opportunity launched its Service Design Studio to support City agency partners in applying human-centered design to program development and implementation. The Service Design Studio, launched with support from founding partner Citi Community Development and managed in coordination with the Mayor’s Fund, helps spread valuable methodologies that are often underutilized in government. The Studio serves as a resource, helping the City further engage with residents and those who deliver services so that their insights can shape new and existing programs. The Studio also created Civic Service Design Tools + Tactics, a set of methods and templates available as a website, book, and binder.
The Managing for Innovation Course (MFIC)
NYC Opportunity partnered with the CUNY School of Professional Studies to create a capacity building initiative for nonprofit management staff that oversee NYC Opportunity programs. The course promotes ongoing learning and fosters innovation to better serve New Yorkers. In a survey conducted as part of an evaluation, nearly all respondents reported that they applied the lessons they learned to their jobs and a majority said their programs saw improved outcomes after they participated in the course.
Sharing Public Policy Expertise
After a decade of work, NYC Opportunity has developed considerable expertise across a variety of public policy areas, including criminal justice, workforce development, youth development, health, and asset development.
Sector-Focused Career Centers
A quasi-experimental study conducted by Westat used administrative data and New York State wage data to compare results of the Department of Small Business Services’ Sector-Focused Career Centers to general career centers. The findings, which showed that the sector-focused approach had higher placement rates for clients and better wages relative to the regular career center approach, received widespread attention. They also helped inform the Career Pathways redesign of the City’s workforce system, which relies on sector-based approaches, and led to the creation of several new employment initiatives.
Arches Transformative Mentoring
An initiative launched by NYC Opportunity, Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), and the Department of Probation in 2012, Arches offers group mentoring to young adult probation clients ages 16 to 24. A 2017 impact evaluation by the Urban Institute found that Arches participants had 69 percent lower felony reconviction rates 12 months after beginning probation, and 57 percent lower 24 months after beginning probation compared to a group of similar probationers not in the Arches program.
An evaluation is currently underway of Jobs-Plus, an evidence-based employment program for public housing residents implemented in New York City by HRA, NYCHA, DCA-OFE, NYC Opportunity and YMI. This evaluation by Urban Institute informed NYC Opportunity’s program review required by Local Law 164, which was passed by the New York City Council and signed by the Mayor last year requiring NYC Opportunity to assess potential for expansion of the program. The forthcoming evaluation includes a qualitative component that demonstrates how residents value their Jobs-Plus sites as unique resources and one-stop centers to address a variety of needs.
Outside of program-specific evaluations, NYC Opportunity has also partnered with several City agencies to conduct research to inform development of City services more broadly. For example, in 2017, three studies were underway responding to priorities from the New York City Council. These studies sought to better understand the needs of particular populations — unpaid caregivers and young adults in foster care — and helped support City agencies in making these surveys a regular occurrence so that the City can track progress over time. A third evaluation, by MRDC, is assessing the effects of new pilot programs that were launched as part of an expansion of the DYCD’s citywide Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) — research that will drive key programmatic and funding decisions for this program that served nearly 70,000 young people this year.
Partnering for Impact
NYC Opportunity actively collaborates with national innovators in evidence-based policymaking. It is engaged in projects with a variety of partners who help it to apply cutting-edge tools and methodologies to improve services for vulnerable New Yorkers.
Government Performance Lab
This year the Mayor’s Office of Operations (Operations) and NYC Opportunity were selected for partnership by the Government Performance Lab (GPL) at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. GPL is working with New York City on two projects: developing a citywide Children’s Budget, and establishing priority performance metrics for the new Department of Veterans’ Services.
Behavioral Design Team
Operations and NYC Opportunity also partnered with ideas42 — a New York City-based nonprofit behavioral design lab — to launch and manage the NYC Behavioral Design Team (BDT). Using behavioral science, ideas42 has designed low-cost, scalable solutions in New York City, including ones that have increased renewals of college financial aid to support retention, resulted in faster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recertification, and produced higher flu vaccination rates among City employees.
Code for America
NYC Opportunity hosted a group of Code for America Fellows in 2016. These fellows helped produce a new design and usability framework for the City’s Worker Connect program.
Results for America
NYC Opportunity Executive Director Matt Klein is a Results for America Local Government Fellow.
Partnerships of this kind accelerate NYC Opportunity’s ability to learn more about the issues it works on and develop new strategies for carrying out its mission. They also allow NYC Opportunity to share its own successes — as well as lessons from efforts that have not proven effective — with others working on these issues nationwide.
Building on Strengths
NYC Opportunity is building on the strengths of the two organizations out of which it was built. In the past year, NYC Opportunity has continued to be a leader in using data and evidence in measuring poverty rates and trends in the City; launching new initiatives; facilitating access to critical services; and assessing the effectiveness of City-funded programs. It remains dedicated to the founding mission of the Center for Economic Opportunity, which was launched a decade ago to invest in innovative anti-poverty programs, guide their implementation, evaluate their results, and continue to support the ones that work. At the same time, NYC Opportunity is drawing on the technical capacity of HHS-Connect to deploy data and technology in ways that better serve low-income residents. The merger of these two entities has created a single office that is better positioned to reduce poverty and advance opportunity for all New Yorkers.