News: Data, Research & Evaluation

Use the Impact Genome Project to Explore College Access Research

Tuesday, July 23, 2019  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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Later this month, more than 50 NCAN members will participate in an important project to help them (and the field) better understand their program outcomes and effective practices. This will be a big contribution to the knowledge base of what works in the college access and success field, and NCAN is calling it the Impact Survey project.

NCAN is collaborating on this endeavor with the Impact Genome Project, and this work is generously supported by the Nielsen Foundation. Readers can find out more about the project, but they should also know how the Impact Genome Project (IGP) can help them even if they’re not participating in the Impact Survey project.

The Impact Genome Project was inspired by the Music Genome Project and the Human Genome Project. The goal of the IGP is to uncover the “DNA” or components of social impact programs and understand which of these components are most effective. The “DNA” is a common language that we can use to better understand what social impact programs are trying to achieve and how they do it. What does that mean in practice? The IGP is comprised of three things:

  1. Taxonomies: For each area of social impact, the IGP develops a common language – the “DNA” – for standardized outcomes, program activities, and contexts. Ultimately this language allows  the IGP team to translate data and results from different sources into an “apples to apples” comparison.

  2. Evidence: The IGP continuously collects program evaluations, randomized controlled trials, and published experimental research across 47 different areas of social change (e.g., education). These studies are tagged by outcomes, activities, and the context in which they took place. Tagging studies using the common language streamlines the way researchers and practitioners can find the evidence that will be most useful to them. 

  3. Benchmarks: The IGP uses the taxonomies to translate data from thousands of social impact programs into the common language. Once everything is translated, they make direct comparisons between different programs and create benchmarks for the cost per outcome,  program effectiveness, and quality of evaluation data that practitioners and other stakeholders can use for decision-making and learning.

How should NCAN members consider using this tool? First, let’s examine what’s in it. Of the 47 different areas of social change outlined by the IGP, five are in education: college and career readiness, early childhood education, K-12 student achievement, quality education, and STEM.

Within the college and career readiness “genome,” there are four outcomes of interest: high school completion, college access and readiness, college persistence and completion, and career access and readiness.

This is really where the resource gets into NCAN members’ wheelhouse. Conveniently, the “college access and readiness” outcome is where IGP has one of their “most complete and through sets of evidence.” 134 reports and articles comprise the evidence base here. The outcome is defined as “The attainment of knowledge and skills (both cognitive and non-cognitive) that prepare students to be ready for success in college (e.g. college options, college finances, college completion).”

One of the features of the IGP is measuring programs’ costs for each successful outcome they achieve, and this cost ranges from $1,977 to $10,320 among the data points the project currently contains (NCAN members participating in the Impact Survey will contribute to this data set and no doubt inform what it costs to help students better prepare for college).

One of the other key features of the Impact Genome Project is to look at the specific activities that most often appear in the evidence base and are most emphasized by participating programs. These activities, which the IGP refers to as “efficacy genes” for the college access and readiness outcome include:

  • Provide Academic Opportunities On Behalf Of College Prep.
  • Provide Practical Support/Orientation On Behalf Of College Attendance.
  • Provide Assistance With College Selection.

Members who are looking to improve their understanding of the literature base and successful activities from programs with similar priorities should consider exploring the Impact Genome Project. The research is sortable by study design, study subjects, and study context (e.g., location, venue). Beyond being attractive to stakeholders (including funders), better understanding what the literature says about effective practice is a self-evident good that this resource certainly helps to obtain.

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