Evaluation & Evidence

Evaluation is a key component of ASPE’s work. HHS funds health and human services programs, which provide or finance services for beneficiaries or clients. HHS also carries out or directs public health and biomedical research and develops and implements health and safety regulations. HHS funds multiple types of evaluation activities; these may examine how well a program is implemented, whether it achieves intended outcomes, the overall impact of a program, or all three. These program evaluations may be used for program planning, assessing program performance, understanding how to improve a program, and/or for making policy decisions.

A variety of evaluation approaches are used across HHS, often in combination, to address complex questions about the best program to implement, whether a program, policy, or initiative is operating as planned and achieving its intended goals, and why or why not. Across many HHS agencies, the first step in an evaluation is determining the kind of evaluation that can reasonably be done.

In addition to evaluations that develop new knowledge, another set of evaluation approaches focuses on formally summarizing existing research. HHS often conducts a variety of reviews with the goal of summarizing existing research or directing new research and evaluation efforts.

Additionally, ASPE is exploring how we might better integrate research, evaluation, and performance measurement in order to improve the management of federal programs and use evidence-based decision making processes. Evidence-based decision making simply refers to the practice of using the best available evidence to make decisions related to program management and policy. Under a model of evidence-based decision making, the answers to each of these questions would be informed by the best available evidence, whether it comes from agency-funded research and evaluation, agency performance data, other information such as independent research from academics and think tanks, or (as is most likely) some combination of information.

There are many references for these issues, including several studies conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looking at the relationship between research and evaluation and performance measurement in federal agencies, and describing the definitions and distinctions between performance measurement, research, and evaluation (for example, see GAO, 2011-11-646SP and and GAO 11-176.) These GAO publications provide a solid foundation for understanding the state of the federal government in connecting research and evaluation with performance improvement. Our goal at HHS is to ensure we have the best available evidence and evaluations to inform decision-making, program improvement, and program performance.

ASPE also houses a database where the results and summaries of many studies conducted at HHS can be found. The HHS Evaluation Database has been in existence since 1995 date, an all parts of HHS have contributed to the database.