Across the United States, government officials, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, and impact investors talk about the need to pursue not just program outputs but “positive outcomes”—results that make a genuine difference in beneficiaries’ lives. They talk about adopting models that are designed to focus attention on such outcomes: public-private partnerships, collective impact projects, pay-for-success (PFS) initiatives. And they talk about rigorously using data to track …

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