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Faith-Based vs. Secular: Performance Comparison of Faith-Affiliated and Other Social Service Providers

Category: Evaluation of Current Services

Document Type: Report

During the last four years, one of the most widely publicized domestic policy efforts of the administration of President George W. Bush has been his Faith-Based and Community Initiative. Through the regulatory process, executive orders, and other administrative actions, the President has encouraged government funding of services provided by faith-based organizations.1 This initiative has engendered many questions – constitutional, legal, and otherwise. With the reelection of President Bush, these questions will continue to be a focus of domestic policy debate. One question that has drawn the attention of policymakers, program managers, and researchers, but remains largely unanswered, involves the relative effectiveness of services provided by faithbased organizations compared to services provided by secular organizations, such as for-profit service providers. For all the interest in the topic, and all the anecdotal stories of accomplishment by individuals and individual organizations, there remains little systematic evidence on the comparative effectiveness of faith-based and other social service providers, and virtually no evidence that demonstrates how differences in performance connect to the faith character of service organizations.

This issue is fundamental. From the perspective of state and local program managers, answering the effectiveness question could have a significant impact on efforts to increase involvement of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in the delivery of government-funded services. Recently the federal government has focused on informing FBOs of funding opportunities, building their capacity to successfully compete for grants and contracts, and ensuring that there is a level playing field when it comes to the availability of federal funding. However, there is little new funding available for actual services.2 Instead, FBOs compete with other service providers for existing funds. Program managers, sensitive to issues related to performance and outcomes, must consider the efficacy of services and the track record of service providers when determining which to fund.

The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy has begun a variety of studies to address questions related to the relative effectiveness of services provided by FBOs and from other providers. As new data are gathered and analyzed, we will be in a better position to address questions of relative efficacy of services and service providers. Until then, there is a dearth of research that uses quantitative measures to examine comparative performance. Yet many government agencies collect performance data to better manage social service programs. We wondered whether such data might be useful in addressing the policy question above. Are there programs for which data currently being collected could be used to compare the performance of FBOs with other service providers? If such data sets are available, do they include a sufficient number and variety of service providers to permit methodologically sound analysis? And if so, what can we learn about the relative performance of FBOs and other service providers? Additionally, what can we learn from the experience of using currently available data for such purposes?

To read a transcript of the research session, please click here.

To access all of the resources available from the Roundtable conference, please click here.

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Publisher: The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy

Publication Date: 12/01/2004