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Federal Managers’ Use of Evidence (Performance Measurement Data and Evaluation Results): Are We There Yet? Open Access

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Understanding federal managers’ use of evidence (performance measurement data and evaluation results) to inform decision-making is an important step to develop concrete strategies to remove barriers to use and increase use. The goals of this research are to: 1) explain the extent to which senior level managers and executives in federal agencies use performance measurement data and evaluation findings and results to inform decision-making; 2) understand the factors that influence use of evidence to inform decision-making; and 3) explore strategies to enhance the use of evidence. The study employs a case study approach focusing on four federal agencies whose managers’ exhibit varying degrees of success in utilizing evidence (e.g., performance measurement data and program evaluation results). The four case study agencies that are the subject of the study are: United States Agency for International Development (AID), Department of Treasury (Treasury), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and Department of Transportation (DOT). The study relied on publicly available secondary data sources that were supplemented by document reviews and interviews with a small number of key informants. The findings indicate that performance measurement use occurs within the four case study agencies, however, it’s use declined from 2007 to 2017 for SBA, DOT and Treasury. Although a decline in use for some categories was evident in AID, other types of use increased. The results indicate that nearly 40% or more of respondents for the case study agencies use performance measurement data to inform decisions related to program strategy, problem identification and improvements and personnel performance related issues. The data also suggest an important distinction and nuance associated with different levels of management who use performance information, as well as specific types of use. For example, the agency’s top leaders and first line supervisors are more likely to use performance measurement data. However, an organization’s middle management tends to be less likely to use data to inform decisions regarding changes to the program. The most common factors that influence performance information use across the four case study agencies include: manager perceptions about who pays attention to performance information, the lack of incentives and the perceived authority (or lack of) to make changes to improve the program. In addition, access to timely and readily available data, information technology and or systems capable of providing the needed data, access to training, and staff knowledge and expertise to develop performance measures and conduct evaluations were found to influence the use of performance measurement.In general, there is an overall decline in the percentage of managers who report an evaluation of their program was conducted from 2013 to 2017 in all four case study agencies. Despite this decline, over 50% of AID managers were aware of an evaluation that was conducted within the past five years. The lower responses reported by DOT (28%), SBA (32%) and Treasury (34%) is consistent with the absence of robust program evaluation efforts. In 2017, managers at AID, SBA and Treasury report using program evaluation results to implement changes to improve program management or performance, while AID, DOT and Treasury managers report using program evaluation to assess program effectiveness, value or worth.

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