Obama’s Inaugural Address Calls for More Evaluation


Today was historic and I was moved by its import.  As I was soaking in the moment, one part of President Obama’s inaugural address caught my attention.  There has been a great deal of discussion in the evaluation community about how an Obama administration will influence the field.  He advocates a strong role for government and nonprofit organizations that serve the social good, but the economy is weak and tax dollars short.  An oft repeated question was whether he would push for more evaluation or less.  He seems to have provided and answer in his inaugural address:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

We have yet to learn Obama’s full vision for evaluation, especially the form it will take and how it will be used to improve government.  But his statement seems to put him squarely in step with the bipartisan trend that emerged in the 1990s and has resulted in more-and more rigorous-evaluation.  President Clinton took perhaps the first great strides in this direction, mandating evaluations of social programs in an effort to promote accountability and transparency.  President Bush went further when many of the agencies under his charge developed a detailed (and controversial) working definition of evaluation as scientifically-based research.  What will be Obama’s next step?  Only time will tell.


Filed under Commentary, Evaluation, Program Evaluation

2 responses to “Obama’s Inaugural Address Calls for More Evaluation

  1. serendipity hopeful

    Congratulations to President Obama and the people of the US of A.

    As a foreigner who wants good things to happen in any and all parts of the world, I wish Americans will work more in harmony with their president. How successful Obama can be as American president will depend on how well his fellow-Americans can rein in their demands for their expectations to be satisfied.


    Keep the hopes alive.

  2. Hi,

    Like most things, the devil is in the detail as to how he implements the continued focus on evaluation. The issue tends to be put as Obama has put it in his speech – we will work out what works and what does not work and then fund what works and close down what does not work. This is all good stuff.

    However the approach needs to also deal with the issue of what I call the Equivalent Ease of Impact Evaluation Principle. This is the principle that it makes sense to compare programs on their impact and close down those which do not work only in those cases where it is appropriate, feasible and affordable to do impact evaluations and there is a relative equivalence in the ease of doing impact evaluation across the programs being compared.

    The problem comes in many areas that you have to compare programs for which it is relatively easy to undertake impact evaluation (e.g. individual level treatment programs) with those where it is harder to undertaken impact evaluation (e.g. system wide community programs). If you don’t have a sophisticated way of working with this issue, the push for evaluation can have the unintended consequence of you just ending up doing the easily evaluable rather than what, on a strategic analysis, is most likely to be effective or be more cost-effective (for instance community prevention programs rather than individually orientated treatment interventions).

    I set this out in more detail in a paper of mine which is at http://knol.google.com/k/paul-duignan-phd/implications-of-an-exclusive-focus-on/2m7zd68aaz774/46


    Paul Duignan,PhD


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