University of Wisconsin–Madison

OPRE Background and NPF Position Description

The National Poverty Fellows in residence at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in Washington, D.C., will be assigned to either the Division of Economic Independence or Division of Data and Improvement. These represent two of OPRE’s four divisions.

OPRE conducts rigorous research and evaluation projects related to ACF programs and the populations they serve. These include evaluations of existing programs, evaluations of innovative approaches to helping children and families with low incomes, research syntheses, and descriptive and exploratory studies. OPRE also supports rigorous research and data-driven decision making in ACF program offices by increasing the quality, usefulness, sharing, and analysis of data while protecting privacy and confidentiality.

OPRE Division of Economic Independence

OPRE’s Division of Economic Independence (DEI) has primary responsibility for welfare and family self-sufficiency research. DEI’s portfolio is designed to expand knowledge about effective programs to promote employment, self-sufficiency, and economic well-being among families with low incomes, and includes work focused on:

  • the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and policies;
  • Employment, education, and training interventions for adults with low incomes;
  • Applications of behavioral science to social services programs; and
  • Other cross-cutting topics related to poverty alleviation for families.

DEI works primarily with ACF’s Office of Family Assistance (OFA), which administers the TANF program. This close collaboration with OFA staff ensures that the research and evaluation projects are relevant to the interests and needs of OFA and provide human services agencies and related practitioners across the country with information to strengthen their programs and serve their clients more effectively.

DEI’s work is guided by the Welfare and Family Self-Sufficiency Learning Agenda, which synthesizes current (and recent past) learning and identifies knowledge gaps to inform DEI and OFA portfolio development and execution. In this way, it is intended to serve as a tool to enable us to work more effectively, efficiently, and collaboratively toward advancing our mission and supporting broader agency goals.

Examples of current DEI projects include:

  • experimental impact and implementation evaluations of post-secondary career pathways programs and of employment interventions including coaching approaches for TANF recipients and other adults with low incomes and innovative employment strategies for highly vulnerable populations with complex barriers to employment (such as physical and mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or justice involvement);
  • a systematic review of the evidence on interventions designed to help job seekers with low incomes succeed in the labor market;
  • analyses of racial and ethnic disparities across the human services delivery system;
  • examination of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on TANF and child support programs;
  • tests of the application of behavioral science to human services programs including TANF, child welfare, and Head Start programs; and
  • consultations to advance the application of innovative research and evaluation methods including participatory methods and contextual analysis.

DEI also works closely with other OPRE research divisions and the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation to collaborate on research on programs delivering two-generation services to support child development and family economic security, questions surrounding populations re-entering the community after incarceration, and child support systems and policies.

For more information on DEI’s welfare and family self-sufficiency research portfolio, see the division’s most recent annual report and the ACF Research & Evaluation Agenda Welfare and Family Self-Sufficiency Snapshot.

OPRE Division of Data and Improvement

The Division of Data and Improvement is OPRE’s newest division. DDI’s mission is to support ACF programs in responsibly managing and using data to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of human services programs. DDI works with programs from across ACF on a range of policy and program topics, based upon agency needs. Division staff conduct demonstrations; develop tools; and provide guidance, analysis, technical assistance, and oversight on:

  • Applying data analyses to program operations and decision making, developing learning agendas, and building capacity to develop and use evidence;
  • Data governance and data ethics;
  • Data sharing, reuse, and privacy and confidentiality; and
  • Interoperability.

Much of DDI’s work is internal to ACF, where staff work with programs to identify information needs; assess the range and quality of existing data; and support data improvement efforts, data analysis, and the presentation of the resulting findings. Since projects are driven by program office needs, policy areas will vary. Both quantitative and qualitative research skills are valuable to DDI.

Current examples of ongoing projects include:

  • Conducting needs assessments to inform learning agendas and supporting programs in using data to answer their high-priority questions;
  • Efforts to make ACF’s data open and available, such as creating federal data catalogues and expanding access to data for statistical purposes;
  • Demonstration projects that illustrate the value of linking of administrative data for service delivery, program management, and/or evidence-building; and
  • Developing guidance on how to navigate the privacy and security challenges that arise when trying to share data to enhance services that promote the well-being of children and families.

The Role of Fellows in OPRE

Fellows in residence in OPRE will participate in a variety of research, technical assistance, and program evaluation efforts and will be expected to:

  • Support Federal staff overseeing research and evaluation contracts and grants related to ACF programs and the populations they serve. Assist Federal staff in preparing research and evaluation project specifications; reviewing design and analysis plans, data collection instruments, and related materials; and critiquing reports and other products.
  • Assist Federal staff in planning research consortia and other professional development activities, such as OPRE’s series on social science research methodology.
  • Provide technical assistance to ACF program office partners on topics or activities related to research and evaluation including design and methodology; performance measurement; and data sharing, documentation, management, and analysis.
  • Identify key research and evaluation questions to address policy and programmatic priorities through reviews of the current academic and applied literature. Assist Federal staff with the formulation of recommendations to Agency officials about future directions for social science data, research and evaluation, and policy analysis.
  • Prepare position papers, issue summaries, comments, briefing documents, and fact sheets related to ACF program data, administrative data sources, research and evaluation findings, and program operations.
  • Participate with Federal staff in working groups and other engagements with internal and external partners to facilitate the dissemination of research and evaluation findings to a range of audiences.
  • Propose topics for individual inquiry related to ACF priorities and the Fellow’s research interests.