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Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week: The Need for Evaluation in Environmental Public Policy Curriculum by Caitlyn Leary

Image of the blog's author, Caitlyn Leary

Hi, my name is Caitlyn Leary. I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, where I am pursuing a degree concentration in Energy and Environmental Policy. 

In my experience, the study of public policy focuses heavily on the beginning of the policy cycle developed by Eóin Young and Lisa Quinn. This includes problem definition, followed by formulation, selection, design, implementation and monitoring of commensurate policy. Our classes prepare us to identify public issues and compare alternative solutions, but there is little consideration given to the evaluation stage of the process. How will we, as policy experts, determine the effectiveness of the implemented policy? 

Image of the policy cycle
Image Source: Writing Effective Public Policy Papers by Eóin Young and Lisa Quinn

The Executive Vice Dean and Associate Professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment,Lori Bennear has written extensively about the role of program evaluation in environmental policy. In her paper “Evaluating Environmental Policies,” Bennear and co-author Cary Coglianese discuss the future of program evaluation of environmental policy. Environmental policies, as compared to other government programs, have historically yielded relatively little research in program evaluation. As environmental issues continue to jump to the forefront of policy debate, the need for evaluators is more apparent than ever. Now is the time to extend program evaluation into environmental policy drawing on the trends and findings described. 

Lessons Learned:

  1. There was an increase in innovative environmental policies introduced at the state and federal levels throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Bennear and Coglianese note. These policies have been in effect long enough that they are now ready for evaluation. 
  2. The current political climate in federal and state governments supports the performance evaluation of government programs. With the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act of 2018 (also known as the Evidence Act), federal government agencies must submit program evaluation plans. 
  3. Finally, federal and state agencies are collecting more data than ever before, and this data is more easily accessible. Evaluators have more ways to compile and compare data from individual agencies to perform a more inclusive evaluation. 

The next generation of policy practitioners will need to know how to design and implement policy and evaluate outcomes for future decision-making. This need is especially true in environmental policy, as the acceleration of climate change will have devastating and lasting effects on human health and safety. In response, the public policy curriculum must adapt and develop new courses dedicated to program evaluation. Duke is committed to its students’ pursuit of interdisciplinary studies. As such, I can take classes at the Nicholas School for the Environment dedicated to environmental evaluation. There is an opportunity for professional evaluators to engage with local institutions and usher new graduates into a career in evaluation.  

Hot Tips:

Find ways to engage with future evaluators. 

  • University students are eager to network and connect with potential employers in the environmental field. Many students want to work in environmental policy but are unaware of the diverse career opportunities available to them. Reach out to your local university’s Career Services Office to find out how you can help students pursue a career in environmental evaluation.
  • Browse your local university’s course listing and see if it offers a course in program evaluation. For example, Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environmental offers a class dedicated to Evaluating Environmental Programs. Reach out to the professor (it may be someone you know or have worked with!) and volunteer to present a guest lecture to their class. 

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our EPE TIG members. 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@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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