Cover: Evaluation of Energy Systems Network's Moving Forward Initiative in Indiana

Evaluation of Energy Systems Network's Moving Forward Initiative in Indiana

Initial Program Outcomes and Potential Impacts

Published Sep 21, 2021

by Nicholas E. Burger, Aimee E. Curtright, Jacob DeWeese, Hardika Dayalani, Rahim Ali, Brittany L. Joseph

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Research Questions

  1. How effectively was Moving Forward implemented in the early stages?
  2. Has the Moving Forward approach to housing development produced improved outcomes in line with stated objectives and intended benefits?
  3. What factors affected the program's success?
  4. Is the Moving Forward approach scalable, transferable, and worth replicating in other cities and states?

Affordable housing in the United States and Indiana is in short supply. Moving Forward is a collaboration between Energy Systems Network and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to develop energy-efficient housing with the goal of lowering household utility and transportation expenses and increasing quality of life for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. Moving Forward's program design and workshop-based approach brought developers together with experts to come up with creative, ambitious designs that were a departure from typical affordable housing developments. Projects have successfully incorporated nonstandard energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies, including solar photovoltaics, and have achieved green building certifications. While the program has been operating for more than five years since its launch in 2015, its structure and phases have also grown more complex, adding new goals (such as poverty alleviation) and creating new challenges for staff and developers.

This evaluation of the Moving Forward program is primarily a performance evaluation—an assessment of how the program has been designed and executed—rather than an evaluation of the program's effects to date. The authors conducted interviews with developers and subject-matter experts, resident surveys, and analysis of available cost and performance data. The authors recommend potential steps for increasing the likelihood of achieving and verifying outcomes as the program matures, including clarification of core program goals, development of key metrics, and reductions in program complexity.

Key Findings

Moving Forward's design concept was effective at a core level but was not comprehensively documented

  • There is no single, formal program document that defines inputs, outputs, and outcomes and describes how resources and activities will support program goals.
  • There are no defined metrics to assess progress or achievement.

Despite a straightforward premise, Moving Forward has become a complex program

  • Ambitious plans to improve energy efficiency and reduce transportation costs make projects more complicated than those built using a more-conventional process for affordable housing.
  • Some objectives support the core goal of reducing costs to residents, but other objectives are not necessarily aligned with that goal.

Moving Forward housing developments have produced some innovation

  • Projects successfully incorporating solar power and green building designs are producing energy-related outputs in line with the program's objectives.
  • There is less evidence of success in the areas of transportation, mobility, and services.

Program resources have been sufficient, but staffing has been a challenge

  • Available staff did not always have the knowledge, influence, or relationships needed to fully support development partners.
  • The workshop-based approach positively exposed developers to innovative ideas, but postworkshop support was uneven.

Certain constraints unique to Moving Forward projects affected success

  • The workshops focused more on "visioning" than on implementation challenges.
  • The program at once improved financial viability and brought expectations of higher upfront costs that need to be accounted for.
  • Constraints should be acknowledged in the preworkshop phases. It is too early to recommend scaling up the program substantially or replicating it elsewhere.


  • Clarify and prioritize Moving Forward core goals, and work with developers to enhance those program elements with promise while deemphasizing those that are not clearly beneficial.
  • Ensure that there is appropriate, dedicated staffing commensurate with the program's scope and goals.
  • Better assess developer capabilities to improve selection of teams and better tailor the program.
  • Be realistic about what transportation goals are feasible and cautious about overinvesting in innovation.
  • Revise and rebalance the workshop approach to maintain "visioning" while expanding "practical" outputs; bring in experience and lessons learned from earlier phases of the program.
  • Consider establishing a forum for Moving Forward developers to communicate and share ideas.
  • Identify a limited set of metrics to help stakeholders understand, track, and document performance, outputs, and outcomes of development projects.
  • Compile comprehensive information about operational costs.
  • Continue to support solar development by aligning energy companies and project developers.
  • Help developers engage with subject-matter experts following the workshops in ways that support program goals and do not create financial barriers.
  • Build on partnerships, knowledge, and technology development for successive phases, but recognize that access to cutting-edge technology alone is not sufficient for real-world deployment.
  • Align and integrate the Moving Forward initiative with other affordable housing programs for mutual benefit; especially align measurement and data related to the transportation and energy characteristics of affordable housing projects.
  • Consider using Moving Forward as an explicit test environment for broad-based adoption.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) and conducted in the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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