Administrative Burdens and the Work of Cradle-to-Career

C2C Staff | May 3, 2023

When it meets virtually on May 10, 2023, the Cradle-to-Career Data System’s Governing Board will be treated to a discussion with Georgetown University professors Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan, authors of Administrative Burden: Policymaking by Other Means. In preparation for this discussion, the C2C staff team has launched an informal book club to study the text and its application to our work. You can read the Introduction here courtesy of the Russell Sage Foundation.

Naming the concept of administrative burden felt like the cartoon light bulb going off over my head. Of course it wasn’t just me struggling to get what I needed from government–the policies and processes of government weren’t necessarily working in my favor!

Last spring at tax time, after writing a bigger check than I had planned, I knew that I needed to change my withholdings in order to avoid the same outcome the following year. Getting to the IRS tax withholding estimator was easy enough, but getting from that place to filing the correct paperwork with my employer was a long and confusing process. It took hours for me to figure out – to download electronic paystubs, calculate year-to-date amounts, coordinate with my spouse, read the information for each field, and so on. The whole exercise didn’t make much sense to me. If the government already knows how much I owe them in taxes, why is it so difficult for me to calculate my deductions? Why do we have to calculate our own deductions at all?

So many government resources and processes feel overly complicated or confusing: obtaining official certificates and licenses; changing medical insurance; choosing and enrolling in school; getting a passport–or any kind of government grant or loan. Administrative burdens are the impacts (costs) people experience interacting with their government. Herd and Moynihan describe three types of costs:

  1. Learning costs are the costs that people face when they search for information about public services.
  2. Compliance costs are the costs people face when following rules and requirements. 
  3. Psychological costs are the cost people face when they experience stress from these interactions.

The California Cradle-to-Career Data System Act charges the Office of Cradle-to-Career Data (C2C) with initiating the data system to “provide for access to actionable data on education, economic, and health outcomes for use by individuals, students, families, and communities to, among other things, illustrate inequities in opportunities and outcomes.”

There are at least four distinct outcomes in this objective alone, and each one offers an opportunity for C2C to actively consider how administrative burdens can be reduced for data system users:

  • We need to provide access. We need to bring people closer to their data. It should be easy to find and explore.
  • The data must be actionable. We need to identify what users will do with the data. What is the gap between the data and potential actions, and how can we bridge that gap?
  • Different groups need to use the data system. We need to ensure the data system works well for different user personas who will have different questions, priorities, and potential actions related to the data. 
  • The data must be able to show inequities. We need to ensure sufficient disaggregation of the data to spotlight inequities in opportunities and outcomes while protecting individual privacy.

At the February Governing Board meeting, Executive Director Mary Ann Bates shared the values we developed together as C2C staff. First among them is Advancing Equity, with the key question, “how can we design and focus our work to advance equity in small and big ways?” Our upcoming discussion with Professors Herd and Moynihan will highlight opportunities for C2C to best serve its users by providing a framework that will help C2C make policy and design choices that intentionally limit administrative burdens.

Our May 10, 2023 Governing Board meeting begins at 9:30 AM via Zoom. The meeting link and recording will be posted here

For more information about administrative burdens and why they matter:

Lesley Taylor is the Director of Operations at the Office of Cradle-to-Career Data. She tells friends that her job is all about “how to be a state agency.” After reading this book, that will always include an assessment of opportunities to reduce administrative burdens.

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