CDC Week: CDC’s Path to Improving Program Evaluation by Dan Kidder

My name is Dan Kidder, and I’m the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit Lead in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Program Performance and Evaluation Office (PPEO). In 2019, CDC is marking the 20th anniversary of the CDC Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health. This week, we’ll share some history, lessons learned, resources, and thoughts about how we, and the field, might use this occasion to reflect on applied evaluation.

Interest in program evaluation at federal agencies is not new, with many agencies having pockets of evaluation since at least the 1980s. Interest really took off in the 1990s with greater interest in accountability, most notably the National Partnership for Reinventing Government during the Clinton administration. The 1999 release of our Evaluation Framework accelerated program evaluation at the Agency. The Framework’s six evaluation steps and four standards for effective evaluation, though well understood and widely used today, were an important shift in thinking at CDC.

Importantly, the Framework also helped CDC staff understand that evaluation is a key part of a cycle of continuous program improvement, which consists of program planning, implementation, measuring and monitoring performance, and evaluation. We repeat this cycle to implement, test, and refine program approaches for maximum effectiveness, with the Framework as the backbone for improving our programs.

Over the last few decades, evaluation has been incorporated into many CDC programs across the vast and varied public health agency. With more than two-thirds of CDC funds going to extramural organizations, many CDC programs have worked closely with their funded recipients to improve evaluation, providing capacity building assistance, tools, and resources. In addition, a number of agency-wide initiatives have also helped improve the way we think about and do program evaluation. For instance, in 2010 CDC appointed the first ever Chief Evaluation Officer (you’ll hear from him tomorrow) who was tasked with overseeing and championing program evaluation across CDC.

In the blog posts this week we will barely scratch the surface of everything that’s been done at the Agency. We do hope it will give you a flavor of evaluation at CDC and that you find these blog posts and resources useful as you work to improve your evaluation skills and those of your organization. Enjoy!

Lessons Learned:

Here are some of the lessons learned about evaluation at large organizations:

  • Understanding and acceptance of program evaluation take time – much longer than we often want or hope. Patience and taking the long view are key.
  • Having people think about evaluation as part of continuous program improvement can help them buy into the need for program evaluation – there is no perfect program and we all want to improve what we’re doing.

Rad Resource:

  • For more about CDC’s evaluation journey, see our Public Health Reports article published last year.
  • You can also find out more about evaluation at CDC at our website, which also links to many of the excellent resources produced by various programs around the Agency.

Disclaimer: The opinions and reflections expressed in this blog post are those of the author. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the CDC Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health, where authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer some history, lessons learned, resources, and thoughts about applied evaluation. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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