Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is committed to investigating and documenting the impact of public benefits on people’s health, education, and economic security, assessing the efficacy of different outreach and enrollment policies and practices, and sharing what we learn. As BDT continues to grow, we see further investment in research, through hiring dedicated and knowledgeable staff, as a key component to advancing our overall organizational strategy.
Enter BDT’s Senior Research Manager: Lisa Dillman. Before joining BDT, Lisa was the Director of Research and Evaluation at Philadelphia’s The Franklin Institute — one of the leading science centers in the country — where she focused on managing its external research agenda, program impact research and evaluation, and visitor experience evaluation. In 2016, Lisa was awarded the Marcia Guttentag Promising New Evaluator Award by the American Evaluation Association and she currently serves on the editorial board of the New Directions for Evaluation journal. Lisa received her Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she studied social research methodology, her M.Ed. from Temple University, and her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.
Since joining us, Lisa has led the development of BDT’s overall research agenda in coordination with staff across the organization, as well as external collaborators. BDT is delighted to have her on our team to help us expand our research capacity and spread our findings far and wide.
We sat down with Lisa to learn more about her work.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m a generalist researcher who sees my work at the intersection of research and practice. My training and 10 years of experience are in applying mixed methods, both quantitative and qualitative, to the education field. I enjoy applying my skill set across different content areas and disciplines to find answers to critical questions. Beyond my work at BDT, I’m also an adjunct faculty member at UCLA in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) in the Evaluation and Applied Research program.
What most excites you about your work at BDT?
We are uniquely positioned to engage in a variety of research and evaluation activities — from launching rigorous randomized control trials to gathering qualitative data directly from our clients. We have so much opportunity to learn about the populations we seek to serve, how to serve them best, and what receiving benefits means for their health and wellbeing.
There is a spirit of innovation here, and an eagerness to learn more about our work, that sets the stage for robust research and evaluation. Working for a mission-driven organization with a team of people who are passionate about what they do is what energizes me, so I’m thrilled to be at BDT where both of those things are prevalent in our everyday work.
What type of research has BDT been involved in up to now?
It's incredible to see that BDT has already engaged in a wide variety of interesting and impactful research projects. There are several examples of the innovative work we have done so far in the research and evaluation space.
- BDT has undertaken a study using human-centered design to explore possibilities and ultimately create easy pathways to assistance based on personal preference through simplifying benefits access. In partnership with Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Finance (HCPF), BDT successfully identified and enrolled dual eligibles under 60 years old in SNAP through tailored mail and text outreach.
- We also conducted a large-scale randomized controlled experiment about SNAP take up and targeting with Poverty Action Lab at MIT (J-PAL), which found that our targeted outreach and application assistance tripled SNAP enrollment among Medicaid participants aged 60 and over.
- Finally, cross-sector research indicates that access to SNAP reduces healthcare spending, improves health, and allows low-income seniors to age in place with dignity, effectively reducing hunger and improving outcomes.
What research are you currently working on, or are you excited about in the near-term?
Thus far, BDT has been able to demonstrate that our outreach strategies work — we enroll more people in benefits as a result of texting and mailing them than would enroll without our assistance. Now, it makes sense to turn our attention to better understanding not only what works, but how it works, for whom, and under what circumstances. We hope to achieve this in part by applying an equity lens to our research work and centering client experiences.
Something I’m particularly eager to start working on is better understanding the population of people who are eligible for, but don’t access assistance programs. We need to better understand the needs and challenges people experience in trying to navigate the system so that we can develop policy and practice solutions to streamline access. For example, I’m currently working alongside researchers from the UPMC Center for High-Value Health Care to help this Managed Care Organization understand the relationship between receiving SNAP benefits and healthcare spending among their members. Through collaborative efforts on this particular project, our goal is to improve health outcomes for older adults and adults with disabilities.
How can other researchers get involved in the work we are doing?
That’s a great question because we love partnering with other researchers and evaluators working in the public benefits space. I see so many opportunities for leveraging different methods and approaches to answer questions that can shape policy and practice conversations with meaningful impact.
We want to engage in qualitative research to better understand the challenges and barriers people face in accessing benefits, conduct sophisticated secondary analysis of existing data that describes people who are eligible for benefits, stage randomized-control trials to understand the effectiveness of our outreach strategies, and employ rigorous research that illuminates the relationship between receiving benefits and health, education, and economic outcomes. The best way to achieve this is through partnering with researchers who bring different perspectives, approaches, and interests to the table. So, we welcome anyone working in this space to reach out to us, so BDT can learn more about what they are doing and discuss if there are opportunities to collaborate. Folks can email me directly to start up a conversation.
What about your background brings new perspectives to this space?
Public benefits and policy were new areas for me before joining BDT, so not only is this a great opportunity to grow my expertise, but I can bring my knowledge of and experience in other fields and apply them here to help frame questions and make connections in slightly different ways.
If you have any questions regarding our research — or want to get involved — please contact Lisa: LDillman@bdtrust.org.