We are Kathy Newcomer, Director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Administration at George Washington University and President-Elect of AEA, and Nick Hart, a PhD candidate at GWU and Board Member of Washington Evaluators. We both have extensive experience working with Federal agencies to implement evaluation and performance measurement initiatives, providing insights about lessons learned over the past 15 years as well as lessons that could have been learned, but were not.
The George W. Bush and Barack Obama Administrations both advocated for the generation and use of evidence to guide and improve government management. The two presidents brought very different experiences, views and advisors to the Federal bureaucracy, yet their management agendas established similar expectations and initiatives. For example, each administration focused both on delivering better results for the American public and improving accountability. But while the Bush evaluation and performance management agenda relied on the use of central oversight offices to establish ambitious goals and to coordinate implementation, the Obama Administration’s approach provided agencies flexibility and focused on decentralized institutionalization.
Lessons Learned: Below, we highlight eight lessons that were learned and/or re-learned in implementing the Bush and Obama initiatives. Each of these lessons can inform future efforts to improve government performance, organizational learning, and accountability.
#1: The role of central oversight offices in the Federal government must be calibrated to meet agency needs, providing sufficient oversight with an appropriate level of ownership among agencies.
#2: Establishing and sustaining an audience for the performance measurement and evaluation initiatives is challenging, but critical.
#3: Multi-agency management initiatives can be effectively implemented, with appropriate collaboration.
#4: Development of case studies to highlight success stories can help articulate the usefulness of performance initiatives.
#5: Sufficient evaluation capacity is necessary to support initiatives over the long-term.
#6: Additional emphasis is needed on creating and institutionalizing synergies between performance measurement and evaluation offices and staff within agencies.
#7: Training new political appointees and senior managers about their role in leading evaluation and performance measurement initiatives will help improve the institutional support needed to effectively implement management agendas.
#8: More consultation with intended users of the initiatives’ products will help better align the information provided by agencies to the actual needs of policy-makers.
Rad Resource: Interested in learning more about the development of the Bush and Obama initiatives and the lessons described above? We had an “Evaluation in the Federal Government: Lessons Learned and Lessons Unlearned” panel session at Evaluation 2015 in Chicago, IL.
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