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MDRC Launches Comprehensive Cloud Platform for Social Policy Research

May 2021

In 2020, MDRC launched the world’s first comprehensive cloud platform for social policy research: SPROUT (Social Policy Research and Operations Unified Technology). Drawing on its 47 years of experience conducting social policy research and securely managing large, complex datasets, MDRC has built a cloud platform that offers researchers, federal agencies, service providers, and other organizations new ways to work together to tackle challenges of social policy and practice. SPROUT provides organizations with a place to securely store, manage, and analyze their data, all while controlling what data—if any—should be shared with any external partners. MDRC is making SPROUT available at near cost to social and educational policy researchers, agencies, and nonprofit organizations around the country, regardless of their affiliation with MDRC.

What features does SPROUT offer?

  • Robust Security. SPROUT’s extensive security controls permit a wide range of sensitive data to be securely stored and analyzed. SPROUT’s containers (which can be uniquely instanced for each user) keep each user’s analyses separate, while SPROUT’s Virtual Clean Rooms offer restricted environments for highly sensitive data. Multiple federal agencies have reviewed and approved SPROUT for use with sensitive government
    data.[1]
  • Advanced Analytics. The SPROUT Data Lab offers a deep data science and analytics toolkit that enables teams to quickly unlock insights from large amounts of data and provide tailored recommendations and findings to organizations, practitioners, and even individual recipients of social services. The toolkit currently includes Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AutoML), RStudio, Python, SQL Server, SAS Viya, and Excel, with further additions planned.
  • Easy Collaboration. SPROUT combines robust data security with new approaches to collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and capacity-building. SPROUT’s modular virtual environments allow government agencies, service providers, nonprofits, and researchers—both at MDRC and elsewhere—to work together on collecting, sharing, and analyzing data. In addition, SPROUT’s Management Information System (MIS) allows nontechnical users to securely create, access, and modify individual records.

Less than a year after launch, SPROUT is already being used in a wide range of research projects, including six efforts funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers at MDRC and elsewhere are partnering with child support agencies, substance use treatment centers, preschools, Medicaid agencies, colleges and universities, and other state and federal agencies to collect and process data through the SPROUT MIS, run predictive analytics and other analyses in the Data Lab, and conduct analyses in highly secure Virtual Clean Rooms.

SPROUT’s federal authorizations provide teams with a secure cloud platform from which to start conducting federally funded or other government research immediately, avoiding what can be a burdensome, multi-month process of configuring their own systems to meet federal data security requirements. SPROUT’s modular design allows its security controls and system components, such as the Data Lab and MIS, to be adapted to meet each team’s needs. Technical assistance, training, and real-time support are also available to supplement SPROUT’s toolkit.

To learn more about SPROUT or inquire about using the platform, please contact SPROUT@mdrc.org.


[1] SPROUT holds an agency Authorization to Operate (ATO) from the Department of Health and Human Services and a Moderate-Impact FedRAMP ATO from the FedRAMP Project Management Office. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a government-wide program that assesses whether cloud systems meet the information security standards set forth in NIST 800-53.