TANF Data Innovation


TANF Data Innovation (TDI) is a national initiative to support state, local, and tribal agencies that administer Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the federal agencies that oversee this work. This initiative aims to substantially expand the routine use, integration, and analysis of TANF and employment data to improve outcomes for families and to improve program administration. Launched in 2017, TDI is led by MDRC in partnership with Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, and the Coleridge Initiative. TDI is sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in collaboration with the Office of Family Assistance (OFA), both in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

TDI is consistent with stated aims in the legislation that led to the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The Commission’s recommendations to improve data access and strengthen evaluation and evidence-building capacity in the federal government are implemented in TDI, making this initiative a real-life case study of how to operationalize the goals of the commission.    

The initiative has three components:

  • Federal capacity-building (FedCap) provides technical assistance and training to enhance the quality of data being reported by TANF agencies to OFA, as well as to support the use and analysis of data within OFA.
  • The TANF Employment Project (TEP) integrates federally reported TANF data with employment data from the National Directory of New Hires, to allow for deeper analysis by OPRE, OFA, TANF agencies, and other researchers.
  • The TANF Data Collaborative (TDC) provides technical assistance and training to support TANF agencies in their routine use of TANF and other administrative data, such as earnings data, to inform policy and practice.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

TANF Data Innovation (TDI) has the following key strategies:

Nationwide needs assessment survey and input from key stakeholders: Completed in 2019 to understand the capacity of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs to analyze data used for the purposes of program improvement, monitoring, and evidence-building. It also provided insights into agency capacity and identified priority areas for training and technical assistance.

TANF Data Collaborative Framework: Developed and organized instructional content based on five key phases of data analytics projects: laying the groundwork for project work, accessing data, preparing data, analyzing data, and communicating data and findings.

TANF Program-Facing Technical Assistance:

  • The Applied Data Analytics course: Adapted by the Coleridge Initiative from a previous curriculum. It guided TANF staff in developing key data science skills and, in addition, provided access to linked administrative data from both TANF and workforce agencies.
  • TANF Data Collaborative Pilot: Provided funding, training, and technical assistance to eight state/county TANF agencies that were selected through a competitive process during a 30-month research project.
  • Wide range of training and technical assistance: Offered monthly workshops timed to address pilot data analytics project activities. Topics included how to identify and prevent data quality errors, how to measure employment stability and advancement, how to interpret the results from common research designs, and how to build and analyze files that reflect the trajectories of families receiving TANF.

Building Federal Capacity (FedCap): Increased federal staff capacity to address the quality, use, and analysis of data within the federal Office of Family Assistance’s TANF Data Division by providing a range of data technical assistance services.

The TANF Employment Project (TEP): Focused on improving the TANF data infrastructure to enable evidence-building by developing a TANF longitudinal data file and an integrated TANF and earnings file using data from the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH).


  • Unemployment Insurance Wage Toolkit: Includes tools for TANF agencies, and other human services staff, for use in linking administrative data to wage data from state departments of labor.
  • Sustaining Analytics Toolkit: Includes tools and guidance for TANF agencies, and other human services staff, for use in building data analytics capacity that lasts beyond the defined life of a single project.
  • Videos, publications, and conferences: Shared findings and lessons in a variety of ways including at conferences hosted by federal agencies, as well as those hosted by national organizations, with TANF administrators and staff in attendance.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The TANF Data Innovation (TDI) initiative is national in scope and operates at the federal, state, and local levels. The main data sources include, but are not limited to, state and federal TANF and employment administrative data.

The TDC Pilot Initiative included state and county agencies who administer the TANF program. The eight selected agencies represented geographic, demographic, and political diversity, and seven of the eight pilot agencies supervised counties who locally administered the TANF program. Programmatic and policy questions that mattered most to each pilot team informed the design and data sources using during the TDC Pilot.

The eight pilot team agencies were:

  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) & Family Resilience Branch
  • Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Employment and Benefits
  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
  • Minnesota Department of Human Services, Economic Assistance and Employment Supports Division, with Dakota and Olmsted Counties
  • New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, and Rutgers University
  • New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Division of Family Development
  • Utah Department of Workforce Services
  • Virginia Department of Social Services

Information collections related to this project have been reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under ACF’s Generic Clearance for Formative Data Collections for ACF Program Support (OMB #0970-0522). Related materials are available at the TANF Data Innovation (TDI) Needs Assessment Survey page on RegInfo.gov.