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August 23, 2021

Another Council? Why an Interagency Council on Evaluation Policy

By Jeffrey Hemmeter, Acting Deputy Associate Commissioner for the Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support, SSA

People in a meeting to signify the Interagency Council on Evaluation Policy The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) was a culmination of years of efforts to set evaluation on par with statistics and data as necessary for ensuring federal policies are built on strong evidence. While many agencies have been conducting evaluations (“an assessment using systematic data collection and analysis of one or more programs, policies, and organizations intended to assess their effectiveness and efficiency”) for years, others have only nascent evaluation cultures. The Evaluation Officer Council will help align agency policies and priorities with respect to evaluation; but the federal staff supporting those efforts also need a strong community to share best practices, develop resources, and provide other support to capacity- and evidence-building activities. The Interagency Council on Evaluation Policy (ICEP) aims to provide that community and respond to the needs of the Evaluation Officer Council and the federal evaluation community.

ICEP is composed of federal employees who are technical experts in one or more aspects of evaluation. Members represent themselves as recognized experts in evaluation—not their agencies—and come from small, medium, and large organizations including Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act and non-CFO Act agencies representing a wide range policy areas. A steering committee, co-chaired by a representative from the Office of Management and Budget’s Evidence Team (currently Diana Epstein) and one agency representative (currently myself), leads ICEP. The steering committee determines which activities ICEP will take on in a given one to two-year cycle and all ICEP members are expected to participate in at least one of them.

In 2021, ICEP is working on five main activities. Agencies across the government have wide differences in their institutional knowledge and use of formal evaluation. If they need support meeting the required elements of the Evidence Act—specifically preparing Learning Agendas, Capacity Assessments, and Evaluation Policies—ICEP members are available for consultations. Thus far, several consultations have taken place with agencies as varied as the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of State.

A second activity ties directly to building agency evaluation capacity through professional development for federal staff conducting and overseeing evaluations. ICEP is sponsoring monthly “show and share” presentations to present and receive feedback on evaluation-related work that could be more broadly of interest to the federal evaluation community. This activity also includes promoting training opportunities and providing opportunities for professional networking. We have already held sessions on COVID and evaluation, evidence and non-competitive grant funding, and getting evaluation buy-in.

Many federal agencies use contractors to conduct evaluations. Recognizing that contract training are resources are often geared toward non-evaluation procurement, two ICEP activities are related to contracting. We are preparing a memo on promising evaluation contract practices. The practices are not intended to be prescriptive, but provide a number of considerations federal procurement officials and program staff should consider when preparing and overseeing evaluations. The practices are being gathered from ICEP members, and through focus groups with federal evaluation program staff, federal contracting officers, and federal contractors. The second contract-related activity is a compilation of statements of work that model how to implement strong contract solicitations for commonly procured evaluation services. We hope these two activities strengthen evaluation procurement activities so that the Federal Government obtains the information it needs to make policy decisions based on sound evidence.

The final ICEP activity focuses on how to make ICEP itself more useful to the federal evaluation community. As a new group, we are learning from other groups with similar missions (such as the federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy) to refine our project solicitation and selection process to ensure the work we conduct is responsive to the needs identified by the Evaluation Officer Council and other federal evaluation stakeholders.

The Evidence Act challenges agencies to conduct high quality evaluations as they develop new policies and programs. Across the government, there is a need for the types of products and resources ICEP is developing; the feedback on these early activities as ICEP members have scanned the federal community has been phenomenal. As ICEP conducts additional activities in the coming years, it can grow to become a primary and trusted contributor of federal evaluation resources that federal staff need.

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