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Learning from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Investments

A skyline view of the Colorado state capitol's gold dome

Project Summary

Through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the federal government provided $3.8 billion to Colorado in support of pandemic-related recovery efforts across health, education, economic development, housing, and other public sectors. The Colorado Lab supported the state in identifying opportunities to learn from these investments. The goal was to inform and advance each agency’s immediate efforts to support the public and to increase the return on future innovations and investments.

In meetings with agency and program leaders, the Colorado Lab supported creative thinking about evaluation strategies that met short- and long-term agency needs as well as how to fund and execute those evaluations. A sampling of efforts we partnered include:

  • Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Finance: Developing a Theory of Change for ARPA investments and aligning reporting for grant programs to that conceptual framework. A follow-on project that aligns with the Theory of Change is the evaluation of CAPABLE intervention.
  • Colorado Workforce Development Council: Consulting on the development of an RFP for the Workforce Innovation Act Evaluation.
  • Colorado Department of Human Services: Designing a study that leverages cross-system data to inform strategies to identify and address disproportionality, equity, diversity, and inclusion in child welfare.
  • Colorado Department of Higher Education: Developing an evaluation framework for the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI), a program that has grown from $6 million to $90 million in just eight years. COSI addresses the Colorado Paradox—the high proportion of adults with college degrees being due to credentialed people moving to Colorado rather than reflecting an educated homegrown workforce.

Steps to Building Evidence

These efforts largely focused on the earliest of the steps to building evidence, particularly on theories of change at Step 1 on the Steps to Building Evidence. Additionally, we supported data collection and integration to facilitate relevant and meaningful reporting of outputs at Step 2 and outcomes at Step 3. 

Summary of Findings

This project built capacity within state government to sustain evaluation and performance management efforts beyond the ARPA investments while minimizing the burden on direct service providers. For example, with Colorado Lab support, the state’s COSI implementation team updated their theory of change. Then they identified priority leverage points where implementation best practices were unclear. The Colorado Lab connected the state with subject matter experts (SME) around the country on the cutting edge of those issue areas. Based on SME input, the state developed an independent action plan they are in the process of implementing. The Colorado Lab is available for additional strategic consultation as needed.


The evaluation and evidence-building activities for ARPA investments aligned with the decision-making goals of the Governor’s Office and state agencies. For example, theories of change clarify the kinds of measures that are relevant and meaningful for particular strategies. By supporting theory of change development for funded programs, the Colorado Lab facilitated development of reporting requirements that were meaningful for both the state and grantees.  

In addition to advancing the efforts and capabilities of state agencies, these coordinated, cross-sector evaluation and evidence-building activities offered Colorado the unique opportunity to test drive the utility of this type of service. We learned more about the extent to which:

  • Facilitating trusted partnerships among the Governor’s Office, agencies, legislators, and independent researchers advanced evidence-based decision making;
  • Using rigorous evidence to inform the sustainability and expansion of services maximized the public benefit; and
  • Providing guidance and support to tailor evidence-building activities supported innovation as well as proven practices.

Get Involved

For more information about working with the Colorado Lab, see Government and Community Partnerships or Research Partnerships.