How Learning Collaboratives Can Help Address Today’s Pressing Policy Challenges

Jul 16, 2019

Student Raising Hand

Researchers and policymakers across a number of fields have long understood the power of peer-to-peer learning. In fact, as far back as 1916, noted philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer John Dewey wrote that “education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process.” Although policymakers, program practitioners, and researchers talk about breaking down institutional, geographic, and legislative siloes, the value of using a peer-to-peer approach has often been neglected. Thankfully, the advent of new, dynamic learning collaboratives is helping to foster understanding, build the evidence base, and push policy forward to enact lasting change and solve some of today’s pressing challenges.

The most valuable peer-to-peer learning can be hard to orchestrate and requires developing shared understanding, defining a common vocabulary, and, most importantly, building trust within the community. And while we all wish that happened more organically, the collaboration process often requires an objective partner with expertise in collaborative methods and tools and an understanding of the deeper policy issues at play.

Using virtual and in-person meetings, interviews, and data-driven learning tools, Mathematica has helped our partners open up better access to a collective knowledge base of program administrators, managers, and frontline practitioners to build capacity and move the needle on positive change.

Sharing Knowledge and Data to Protect Children and Families in Crisis

Working with the Children’s Bureau and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Mathematica is bringing together local grantees to prevent homelessness among youth and young adults with foster care involvement. Through a series of facilitated peer-learning experience events, grantees share their approaches to specific challenges and discuss how others facing similar challenges might apply lessons learned. These topic-based discussions, hosted via webinar with on-demand recordings posted online, are driven by the grantees themselves so that they cover the most timely and important issues to them.

In another project with ACF, we’re convening researchers in a peer network to help link administrative data to better understand the ways that existing data resources can track the incidence of child maltreatment and related risks. The cross-site learning network may inform future observation, prevention, and treatment efforts. Although the sites face very different challenges, the network will spur informal partnerships and support structures that might extend beyond the duration of the project.

Helping States Implement Policy and Effect Health Care System Change

Mathematica has also partnered with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) since 2011 on the Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) Learning Collaboratives. This project brings together work groups of state and federal officials for regular meetings to identify states’ needs for policy development and clarification, encourage peer-to-peer learning about promising practices, and develop tools for all states to support high-performing health programs. The Medicaid and CHIP Learning Collaboratives have helped to create and refine the following:

  • Strategies to increase coverage and care coordination among Medicaid-eligible, justice-involved populations and former foster care youth
  • Tools to help states and CMS measure the accuracy of determinations based on modified adjusted gross income in their new eligibility systems
  • Medicaid and CHIP performance indicators

Coordinating Care for Medicare Beneficiaries

Working with Medicare Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Seamless Care Organizations, we’re partnering with CMS to identify promising practices and innovative strategies to coordinate care for Medicare beneficiaries. Our work helped create the ACO Care Coordination Toolkit and brings together participants from the Shared Savings Program, Next Generation ACO Model, and the Comprehensive ESRD Care Model.

The ACO Care Coordination Toolkit is the first in a broader series of resources that will explore different aspects of how ACOs operate to provide value-based care. The toolkits will bring together insights gathered during CMS-sponsored learning system events and through focus groups with ACOs. Through these toolkits, CMS aims to educate the general public about strategies used by ACOs to provide value-based care, and to offer action-oriented ideas to current and prospective ACOs to help them improve or begin operations.

At Mathematica, we believe that learning collaboratives are another way to reimagine how to use data and evidence to drive positive, meaningful changes in people’s lives. While the underlying idea of peer-to-peer learning may be centuries old, with the right approach, the right partner, and the right mindset, learning collaboratives offer policymakers and practitioners a modern-day solution to tackle the world’s most pressing policy issues.

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The opinions expressed on the Evidence in Action blog are those of the author(s).