GAO Week: An Updated Classic on Key Terms and Concepts: Using the 4 “Ps” and an “I” by Terell P. Lasane

Terell P. Lasane
Terell P. Lasane

Greetings Evaluators. My name is Terell P. Lasane, and I lead the Center for Evaluation Methods and Issues (CEMI) at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Our center is located in the Applied Research and Methods (ARM) Team and operates to improve the quality of evaluation information and evidence used in federal decision-making. Out team offers information and products to federal evaluators in other agencies to aid in the conduct of high quality evaluations.   

One such product, Performance Measurement and Evaluation: Definitions and Relationships,  was created in 1998 and updated in 2005 and 2011. In these earlier CEMI products, delineations were made between performance measurement and program evaluation as distinct but complementary forms of evidence. In 2021, we updated the product to include other forms of evidence that complement program evaluation and to elucidate concepts that can help evaluators improve programs and inform decision-making. Our new product, Program Evaluation: Key Terms and Concepts (GAO-21-404SP), is a significant update of the prior products. Our team reviewed a number of statutes (e.g.,  Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making Act of 2018, Foreign Aid Transparency Accountability Act of 2016, Program Management Improvement Accountability Act, and others), GAO engagement reports, OMB guidance, professional association resources, and academic publications that have informed our understanding of  program evaluation uses (e.g., Government-Wide Actions  Needed to Improve Agencies’ Use of Performance Information in Decision Making,  Phase 4 Implementation of the Foundations for Evidence Based Policymaking Act of 2018: Program Evaluation Standards and Practices). Over two dozen of the products we consulted were released since we released prior versions of this product.  

We selected our background documents and our approach for synthesizing these sources for GAO-21-404SP with several goals in mind:  The 4 “Ps” and an “I”:

Practical—We sought succinct definitions in a glossary that would strengthen an understanding of program evaluation as one form of evidence;

Pictorial—  We wanted infographics to convey key concepts in an instructional and visually appealing format;

Practiceable–We aimed to convey actionable strategies that evaluation organizations might consider in order to strengthen their units;  

Prescription-free— We steered clear of a “one-size-fits-all” tone, recognizing that several factors influence the applicability of suggested practices; and finally

Integrative—Our goal was to synthesize key messages from a number of relevant and authoritative sources.  

Hot Tips:

We offer the following Hot Tips on how our product can best be used:

  • Understand the statutes and guidance that undergird our product so that you can appreciate the goals that the laws, guidance, and informational resources are intended to achieve.
  • Understand the unique contributions of program evaluation evidence as a complement to other forms of evidence that can help policy-makers and decision-makers to make good use of the information.
  • Understand the goals of evaluation evidence—program learning, program improvement, and statutory compliance—to guide a useful evaluation framework.
  • Identify leading/promising practices to support a program evaluation culture that fosters continuous improvement and learning.
  • Understand the multiple purposes for program evaluation and the diversity of approaches that can be used for decision making.
  • Commit to key evaluation principles that can improve the quality of evaluation evidence.

For the last 100 years, GAO has been at the vanguard of ensuring efficient and effective government. CEMI within the ARM Team at GAO will continue to create program evaluation products that support program learning and continuous improvement.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting GAO Week in celebration of the US Government Accountability Office’s 100th anniversary. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from authors who address GAO’s efforts to solve those complex “wicked” socio-cultural problems that defy permanent solutions but demand our best efforts to solve them. 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. 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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