On May 15, 2020, the Urban Institute and Results America co-hosted a virtual Federal Evaluation Forum entitled “Evidence Capacity Assessments: Opportunities to Strengthen Agency Evidence Strategies.” The conversation focused on various strategies and resources federal agencies should leverage in developing their evidence capacity assessments as required by the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act).
Demetra Nightingale, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute, provided framing remarks on the value of developing robust Evidence Capacity Assessments which are crucial for advancing high caliber evidence activities within federal agencies.
Following the framing remarks, Kelly Fitzsimmons, Founder and Managing Director of Project Evident; Susan Jenkins, Director of the Office of Performance and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Community Living; and Christina Yancey, Chief Evaluation Officer at US Department of Labor participated on a panel. The panel was moderated by Jed Herrmann, Vice President for State and Federal Policy Implementation at Results for America.
The panelists described how capacity assessments can be a powerful tool for organizations to improve their use of evaluation, data, and statistics to achieve better results. In particular, panelists identified the important components of evaluation capacity assessments and some potential approaches to assessing the capacity of federal agencies. Panelists shared the inherent challenge of the compliance mindset that comes with legally mandated activities, but highlighted the opportunity the Evidence Act provided to use the capacity assessments to build a broader coalition of internal stakeholders engaged in evidence activities.
Kelly Fitszimmons offered insights on how Project Evident’s Strategic Evidence Planning process helps organizations assess and improve their evaluation capacity. Some key components of this process include engaging a broad group of stakeholders in the evidence-building process and identifying the power of data to identify particular areas for improvement. Susan Jenkins pointed out that capacity assessments are a balancing act: they need to take into account key principles of evaluation (coverage, quality, methods, and independence) while ultimately improving the effectiveness of the organization’s evaluation work. She also noted that HHS is using internal staff surveys as one way to assess capacity. While Christina Yancey illuminated the need for internal engagement and the importance of the capacity assessment as an iterative process.
Molly Scott, Principal Research Associate at the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, moderated a question and answer session with the panelists and virtual audience.
Project Evident published a brief on capacity assessments, which can be viewed here.