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.