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February 03, 2022

In the Spotlight – Clemencia Cosentino, Chief Evaluation Officer, National Science Foundation

By The Evidence Team, OMB

Christina Yancey headshot

In one sentence, describe your current role?
As NSF’s Chief Evaluation Officer, I promote a culture of using rigorous evidence in decision making, whether policy, program, or operational decisions.

What is one thing that makes you excited to come to work every day?
Good question…given how hard we work! I’d say the people and the mission. My NSF colleagues are truly exceptional. It’s a pleasure to work at an Agency filled with scientists who value and seek evidence to drive their efforts to advance science and grow a diverse scientific workforce.

How did you get started in Federal evaluation?
I formally joined the evaluation unit at NSF in late 2019, but I started working in evaluations for the federal government in the early 90s as a research assistant at the Urban Institute. My work as a grantee and contractor (at Urban and later Mathematica) over the past couple of decades gave me the opportunity to develop technical skills, build professional relationships, and gain a perspective and understanding that is helping me navigate our relationships with the academic and private sectors from this end.

Describe one evaluation that you worked on that provided useful and timely information to shape a critical program or policy?
One evaluation that was particularly rewarding focused on studying the impact of a math and science summer enrichment program for minority and disadvantaged college students. Unlike most evaluations, where we can only study the overall impact of a program, we were able to study the impacts of different implementation approaches and provide evidence that was used to tweak aspects of the program and scale impacts.

What do you wish more people in government understood about evaluation?
I wish more people realized that they don’t need to be afraid of evaluation. Evaluations can be extremely useful to identify ways to make a program effective, or more effective, or scale up successful practices. Also, a great evaluation—that is, an evaluation that will result in useful information—is not something that is being done TO a program, but rather WITH and FOR a program. It is motivated by a desire to improve. This is why NSF embraced the opportunity created by the Evidence Act to bolster its culture of evidence. We are all united in our desire to do better for the communities we serve.

What’s a myth about evaluation in the government or more generally that you’d like to bust?
I hope to debunk the myth that government employees do not work hard. From what I have observed in my two years at NSF, I can testify to the contrary. My colleagues go above and beyond every time!

What advice do you have for new Federal evaluators (or staff who are new to evaluation work)?
Be an authentic listener and engaged partner! Program staff know what they need and have knowledge that is absolutely needed to evaluate their programs. Evaluations will only succeed if program staff are deeply involved and heard.

Where can readers find more information about your office?
Go to our site and check it out in the future as we are transitioning content to our new website.

About the Series: In the Spotlight serves to introduce you to the people and offices across the Federal Government who are doing the hard work of undertaking program evaluation and shine a light on their many notable accomplishments and activities. Through this series, you will get to know the individuals who are leading and conducting the critical evaluation, research, and analytic work happening throughout the government. You’ll also discover the many offices where this work takes place, especially those that may fly under the radar. In the Spotlight will highlight how evaluation and related activities, and the staff that undertake them, are critical to inform policies, program design, decision-making, and advance evidence-based policymaking.


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