As 2017 comes to a close, our profession has much to celebrate. 2017 was a fantastic year for the evaluation field in Washington, DC.
At the outset of 2017 when my term as president of Washington Evaluators began, I outlined three of my overarching priorities for the organization this year: to strengthen the national evaluation community, enhance our organizational services, and to improve our infrastructure for the sustainability of Washington Evaluators. We made tremendous progress in addressing each of these three priorities throughout the year.
I am proud of all that the Board and volunteer members of Washington Evaluators were able to accomplish in just 12 short months. Thank you to all of the volunteers who supported Washington Evaluators activities this year. As we reflect on the past year, I want to briefly highlight several accomplishments of our organization in 2017.
Strengthening the National Evaluation Community
Throughout the year Washington Evaluators partnered with numerous organizations to host events and dialogues to advance evaluation practice, and strengthen the interactions between evaluators not just here in DC but from around the country.
Each of these events and contributions made substantial in-roads to strengthening the evaluation profession not just here in DC, but by demonstrating the value of evaluation and future directions for evaluation across the country.
Enhancing Evaluation Services and Benefits in DC
While Washington Evaluators this year exhibited leadership for evaluators across the country, our volunteers also designed and led numerous efforts to enhance the benefits of membership for our local evaluators right here in Washington, DC.
We hope that all Washington Evaluators members personally experienced many of the specific benefits of membership throughout the year by attending an event or participating in one of the many activities available to members.
Reinforcing Organizational Infrastructure
While the business matters of Washington Evaluators are rarely the most exciting for many members -- there are many encouraging actions undertaken this year that will hopefully shape the future direction of the organization for years to come.
2017 was a phenomenally energizing year for Washington Evaluators as an organization and for all evaluators in Washington, DC. In addition to the many achievements of Washington Evaluators throughout the year, policymakers in DC renewed calls for institutionalizing evaluation in the federal government. With the American Evaluation Association's annual conference in DC as a backdrop, the U.S. Congress advanced legislation to encourage more evaluation in agencies across government. We have much to look forward to in coming years!
Thank you to all who supported the many activities of the organization and strengthening our evaluation community in 2017. Please join me especially in thanking the entire Washington Evaluators Board of Directors and leaders of our many task forces for their leadership this year.
I hope you will continue to be engaged next year as well to support our growing community of evaluation practice!
NICK HART, PHD is the 2017 President of Washington Evaluators.
As the number of Washington Evaluators members and volunteers continues to grow, the Board of Directors of the organization has acknowledged a growing need to recognize our stellar volunteers. Washington Evaluators does not currently have a single staff member, so every service, event, and resource is produced by an all-volunteer team who provide countless hours of exceptional service to our local evaluation community.
Because so many volunteers offer their time to strengthen our profession and often do not ask for any recognition or compensation, I am proud to announce that this year Washington Evaluators will help fill this gap by launching a new "Volunteer of the Year Award."
The Volunteer of the Year Award is intended to recognize outstanding volunteers who provide dedicated and selfless service to the organization and the Washington, DC evaluation community. The intent is that recipients will have made significant contributions to the success of the organization's goals and mission attainment throughout the year.
The creation of this award was contemplated by the Board of Directors through a strategic planning process in 2017 and a subsequent action plan intended to strengthen the organization's infrastructure and long-term sustainability.
For 2017, nominations will be accepted through December 6, 2017. The recipient will be announced at the 2017 Holiday Party. Learn more about the nomination criteria, eligibility, selection process, and timing of the award here.
NICK HART, PHD is the 2017 President of Washington Evaluators.
Later this week the largest gathering of professional program evaluators in the world will convene here in Washington, DC as the American Evaluation Association launches its annual conference, Evaluation 2017. While many exciting activities will occur during the week, the conference theme -- "From Learning to Action" -- provides us all the opportunity to reflect on one basic question: why do I evaluate?
We live in a society that often focuses, perhaps too much, on the consequences of failure. For organizations and grantees, failing to deliver on promised activities can result in a loss of funding. In government, current political discourse would have us believe programs that operate imperfectly can or should be terminated altogether.
Instead of focusing on the consequences of failure, we could choose to focus on the benefits of failure. Consider failure from a personal rather than organizational perspective. In childhood, we learn quickly from mistakes like touching a hot pan on the stovetop or, in my case, shooting your brother with a bb gun. The benefits are that we generally avoid touching hot objects or take greater care in gun safety in the future. Over the course of our lives we make thousands of "mistakes" that productively inform our future behaviors.
Learning from failure is a natural part of the human experience, just as much as learning from success. Because organizations are comprised of humans, we should expect that both failure and success are similarly an organic component of organizational learning.
A learning culture must become more pervasive and routine in organizations and in our government -- it's how we improve, it's how we enhance ourselves, and it's how we make the world a better place to live. Learning cultures are what drive continuous improvements in the outcomes that matter. Learning cultures are how we ensure those in our society who need help and support receive effective assistance. And learning cultures are how we develop the information to act, ensuring our children grow into a better world that we have prepared for them. Recognizing that failure is inevitable and can be used to productively improve is a key component of a learning culture.
Why I Evaluate
This perspective on the purpose of a learning culture is one that is very timely for me. My son was born just over one week ago. His entry into the world has left me reflecting in recent days on many of life's priorities and the process of learning.
It's difficult to imagine becoming a parent that only admonishes my son's inevitable "failures" in life. It's also difficult to imagine only praising his successes. Both failure and success will present incredible learning opportunities and invaluable teaching moments.
How we act in response to any form of information is a direct reflection on our values. In my son and in my government, I value continuous improvement to be the best person or entity possible. I value a recognition that even in mistakes or failures, we can always improve ourselves to be our best reflection of the world. I value learning because it enables action in our lives, for our families, and for our futures.
So why do I evaluate? I evaluate to learn and improve through appropriate action. I evaluate to make the world a little better for my son. I evaluate to help make society stronger.
#WhyEval: A Call for Reflection
Evaluation is not merely a profession, it derives from a greater motivation, goal, and purpose. During the American Evaluation Association's conference this week, I encourage you to consider what drives you to support evaluation:
As you reflect, I also encourage you to share why you evaluate (#WhyEval) with others as we all strive to better understand how learning segues to action in our own work and in our own lives.
NICK HART, PH.D. is the President of Washington Evaluators in 2017 and Director of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Originally posted on AEA 365's A Tip a Day by and for Evaluators for the Local Arrangements Working Group sponsored week in July 2017
As the American Evaluation Association’s 2017 conference returns to Washington, DC, this fall, on behalf of the Washington Evaluators affiliate allow me to welcome you to DC for #Eval17! I am Nick Hart, current president of Washington Evaluators, AEA’s DC-based affiliate.
Washington Evaluators launched in 1984 and has grown to more than 300 local evaluators today. Our goal is to strengthen the evaluation community in the Washington, DC area. We pride ourselves on having a diverse representation of government, non-profit, academic, and independent evaluators that comprise our membership.
This year our membership worked to produce a new strategic plan to ensure the services and professional development opportunities offered truly serve our community. We now have four key strategic goals: strengthen the sustainability of the evaluation community; enhance evaluation relationships and interactions; support individual evaluators' professional development needs; and ensure strong administration of the organization. Each of these four strategic goals is a core component of the Washington Evaluators mission. In implementing our ambitious strategic plan, Washington Evaluators is working to create more opportunities to engage new evaluation professionals, further the professional development of long-time evaluation professionals, and offer the 30+ years of experience of our evaluation organization to other communities of practice throughout the country.
As the seat of the United States government, Washington, DC is perhaps best known for its influence in evaluation policy. But beyond the government, DC is home to leading evaluation organizations and the brightest evaluation minds in the U.S. Building on this broad evaluation expertise, as we prepare for an exciting #Eval17 this fall, over the course of this week on AEA365 we will be showcasing local resources, sites to visit, volunteer opportunities, a major advocacy event on Capitol Hill, and other tips for your trip to DC.
Rad Resource: Follow Washington Evaluators on Twitter or check out our website to learn more about the many opportunities available in the DC area. Many of our events are open to non-members as we support the entire DC evaluation community.
Lesson Learned: Book your travel for the conference early. There are three airports in close proximity to DC (Dulles, Reagan, and Baltimore). From any of these airports, the conference site is just a short Uber ride away. All are also reachable by DC’s public transit options.
Hot Tip: In addition to the resources we will share in advance of the conference, Washington, DC has an excellent tourism website that explains the sites to see in America’s Front Yard, provides tips on accessing the many free museums, and explains the neighborhoods in the city.
Get excited for a great conference this fall. We look forward to seeing you in DC!
NICK HART, PH.D. is the 2017 President of Washington Evaluators and a member of the American Evaluation Association's 2017 Conference Planning Committee.
Cross posted from the American Evaluation Association monthly newsletter from September 2017.
In September 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking proposed a bipartisan strategy – approved unanimously by the Members of the Commission – for improving the quantity and quality of evidence generated to support decision-makers in government. As the Commission published its strategy, a new initiative concurrently launched at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC, to promote implementation of the Commission’s recommendations in months and years to come. Serving as the Commission’s policy and research director and now as the director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new initiative, I’m excited about the enthusiasm in Washington for ensuring policymakers have access to relevant and useful information to guide their decisions. But we must carry this enthusiasm forward to action that can improve our field, the policies we study, and ultimately the lives of individuals in our communities.
Aligning Values with Action
The vast majority of my professional career in evaluation has focused on supporting the policies that enable evaluation to be generated and used in government. The Commission’s recommendations present a tremendous opportunity for the evaluation community. This is an opportunity to exhibit leadership and champion improvements in the availability of evidence, to ultimately improve how government’s policies and programs are designed and implemented.
As the conversation continues in coming months and years about how government can better generate and use evidence, the values articulated by AEA for evaluation are constructive guideposts. As AEA members, we value “excellence in evaluation practice” and “utilization of evaluation findings.” Each of these value statements can and should be embodied and encouraged by the policies that support evaluation in government. This is precisely the nature of my work.
An evaluation that doesn’t exist, can’t inform policymakers. I’m a proponent of recognizing and addressing the many institutional barriers to supply of evaluation. There are many barriers that exist today – laws, resources, will, leadership, organizational culture, political environment, program designs. The Commission’s report emphasizes three key barriers to generating evidence, including evaluation, in the United States: “unintentional limits on data access, inadequate privacy practices, and insufficient capacity to generate the amount of quality evidence needed to support policy decisions.” All of these barriers are solvable and can be transformed into enablers of evaluation.
The Opportunities Ahead
Changing expectations for senior leaders, planning for evaluation at the outset of a program or policy, and establishing appropriate incentives are all approaches to emphasize enabling evaluation in our institutions. How do we accomplish these approaches? The Commission specifically recommends that as we improve data access and privacy protections, capacity gaps can be partially addressed by establishing a Chief Evaluation Officer position within each Federal department and that learning agendas be developed to prioritize evaluation where the need is greatest. When implemented, these recommendations will help ensure that senior leaders are attuned to the needs of evaluation practice, supporting excellence, and that the capacity exists to encourage appropriate and responsible use of evaluation findings.
These recommendations aren’t impossible. The recommendations aren’t unrealistic. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They are on the horizon and likely to become the norm in coming years. But as we all seek to strengthen the evaluation field, improving our practice, and enabling the ability to make evidence available for decision-making, it’s important to remember that many of these changes will not happen overnight.
In my view, the Commission’s bipartisan recommendations mark a major milestone for our country for recognizing that government needs better information to guide policymaking, and that generating this evidence is really possible. I hope the evaluation community will join me in advocating for these improvements – consistent with our values – to seize the rare opportunity to vastly improve government’s capacity to support evaluation.
NICK HART, PH.D. is the Director of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the former Policy and Research Director for the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. He is the 2017 President of Washington Evaluators and a member of the American Evaluation Association’s Evaluation Policy Task Force.
Rarely does the topic of generating evidence to support government decision-making reach an audience outside the statistical, evaluation, and policy analysis communities. But today, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking submitted its bipartisan set of recommendations -- supported unanimously by Members of the Commission -- igniting a discussion about how to do better.
In The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking, the Commission lays out a strategy for vastly improving the quantity and quality of evidence available in our country. The strategy seeks to overcome three prevailing challenges identified by the Commission: “unintentional limits on data access, inadequate privacy practices, and insufficient capacity to generate the amount of quality evidence needed to support policy decisions.”
I’ve had the great privilege of working with the Commission Members over the past year as their Policy and Research Director. But my personal involvement in the project should in no way minimize this message: in coming weeks, months, and years, these recommendations will set the tone for how our country goes about developing evidence to inform decisions in government for decades to come.
While the report of the Commission submitted to the President and Congress today addresses a range of issues and is not exclusively focused on the field of evaluation, there is no doubt that the recommendations could tremendously benefit the field if implemented. Take, for example, the Commission’s agreement with the American Evaluation Association that evaluation in government is too often “sporadic, applied inconsistently, and supported inadequately” (p. 26). One solution offered by the Commission is that departments in the Federal government should have Chief Evaluation Officers (see Recommendation 5-1). This alone is a strong statement about the value of and need for evaluation in our society.
But there’s much more. Chapter 2 of the Commission’s report highlights challenges and potential solutions to data access that can improve the evaluation community. Chapter 3 features improvements for privacy protections that go above and beyond approaches applied in much of government today. Chapter 4 offers a new solution to a long-standing issue about securely linked data together, including for evaluation. And Chapter 5 describes the basic capacity gaps in government today, along with strategies to vastly improve government’s coordination and infrastructure.
In my opinion, today marks a major milestone for our country in recognizing that government needs better information to guide policymaking, and that generating this evidence is really possible. I hope the evaluation community in Washington, D.C. will review, consider, discuss, and work to improve government’s capacity to better enable evaluation in support of evidence-based policymaking.
NICK HART, PH.D. is the President of Washington Evaluators in 2017 and served as the Policy and Research Director for the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The views presented here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Government, including the Office of Management Budget and the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.
In 1984, Lee Cronbach urged that "the evaluator is an educator; his success is to be judged by what others learn."  It's no coincidence that 1984 is also the year in which Washington Evaluators formed as one of the country's earliest professional evaluation societies committed to fostering continuous learning in our field.
Today, Washington Evaluators is committed to ensuring that our current cohort of professionals not only advocate to support the profession, but recruit future professionals into the field. Earlier this year, the Board of Washington Evaluators approved a new strategic plan that specifically identifies this as an objective for a goal to strengthen the evaluation community (see Objective 1.1).
To accomplish this objective the Washington Evaluators Board earlier this year established two new task forces to better address the needs of new professionals. First, we created a task force to develop a suite of recommendations for future consideration around improving the services available for new professionals.
Second, the Washington Evaluators Board established another task force led by Tamarah Moss from Howard University to design a new scholarship program for new professionals. This group's efforts resulted in the launch in August of the 2017 New Professionals Scholarship sponsored by Washington Evaluators. The new scholarship is intended to support new professionals in integrating evaluation practices and approaches within their respective organizations by encouraging participation in the American Evaluation Association's annual conference, as well as engagement over the next year with AEA and Washington Evaluators membership.
Through this new scholarship opportunity, Washington Evaluators hopes to strengthen the sustainability of the evaluation community, by recruiting and helping to educate the next generation of evaluators. The scholarship serves as one means to recruit new professionals into the evaluation community to facilitate continued diversity in the profession. It also ensures that those of us already engaged in the evaluation field can fulfill Cronbach's charge: to be educators and mentors to those who are new to the profession.
Learn more about the 2017 New Professional Scholarship here.
NICK HART, PH.D. is the President of Washington Evaluators in 2017. The views presented here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Government, including the Office of Management Budget and the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.
 Cronbach, L., et al. 1984. Towards Reform of Program Evaluation. Washington: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
The U.S. government has a long and storied experience with producing and using program evaluation. As evaluators, we often like to believe our purpose is clear and necessary. In reality, we know that is not always the case.
The evaluation movement in the Federal government grew out of the War on Poverty initiatives in the 1960s and related efforts to develop prospective analyses for major decisions at the Department of Defense and eventually the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. We have a great many successes where evaluations, and prospective analyses, vastly improved the decisions made by Washington, DC policy-makers.
There are also plenty of examples over the last 50 years when major policy reforms were announced without careful consideration of the evidence. But one question is important in this critique -- did sufficient, credible evidence even exist in a format useful for decision-makers? Far too often the answer is a resounding "no."
Over the last several years, I have frequently been asked to speak to groups about the role of evaluation in informing different aspects of government decision-making. My punchline is often the same: Evaluation can only inform decision-making if it exists.
No evaluation that was promised -- but not delivered -- successfully influenced a policy decision. The challenge in government is developing the capacity to routinely produce evaluations that meet the needs of decision-makers.
The positive influence that evaluation has had on policy in DC occurred in spite of a largely decentralized and uncoordinated evaluation function in government. Not all Federal Departments have active central evaluation offices and there is great heterogeneity in production and use across agencies.
The lack of coordination in Federal evaluation is starting to slowly change. Several years ago, evaluation offices worked with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to recognize government could do better in coordinating the evaluation function. Together, they formed the Interagency Council on Evaluation Policy (ICEP). Then, working through ICEP, a group of agencies funded the National Academy of Sciences to convene a workshop to discuss principles and practices for evaluation in the Federal government.  Taken together, both actions are positive signs for the growing interest in institutionalizing an evaluation function in the Federal government -- a task longtime Washington Evaluators member Joe Wholey called for nearly 45 years ago. 
Why does coordination and the constant presence of the evaluation function matter? Because when evaluation is institutionalized it is also demanded, it is expected, and it happens. Institutionalization creates and maintains champions -- individuals who offer a constant voice to encourage activities and policies be evaluated, ensuring that the evidence does exist to inform decisions. Champions then produce real examples and success stories of the power evaluation can have on improving programs and services.
Ultimately in the long-term, demand for evaluation drives its supply. Evaluation supply relies on a range of factors, from legal authority to resources and expertise. But, perhaps above all, evaluation needs a motivated leader to set the stage. 
Leaders and evaluation champions can assume many forms, within the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. And that's why this fall Washington Evaluators is happy to co-sponsor EvalAction this fall for members of Washington Evaluators and the American Evaluation Association. EvalAction will provide evaluators the opportunity to engage with congressional offices about the important role of evaluation in informing changes to Federal policies. With any luck, EvalAction may even help identify some new champions for evaluation in Congress.
Hopefully in the next 50 years when asked whether the evidence even existed to inform decisions, we will be able to more frequently offer a resounding and emphatic "yes!"
NICK HART, PH.D. is the President of Washington Evaluators in 2017 and a member of the American Evaluation Association's Evaluation Policy Task Force. The views presented here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Government, including the Office of Management Budget and the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.
 National Academy of Sciences. 2017. Workshop on “Principles & Practices for Federal Program Evaluation.” Washington, DC: Committee on National Statistics.
 Wholey, J., et al. 1973. Federal Evaluation Policy. Washington DC: The Urban Institute.
 Hart, N. 2016. Evaluation at EPA: Determinants of Evaluation Supply at the Environmental Protection Agency. Diss. Washington, DC: George Washington University.
Fellow Evaluators --
Five months into a remarkable year for the field of program evaluation in the Washington, DC area, our organization is as active as ever. I am continuously reminded of the incredible dedication those in the DC-area demonstrate to promoting and advocating for evaluation, and I am inspired by the commitment our members show to bettering the field and our profession.
The spirit of strengthening evaluation is widespread, and that is precisely the motivation that led to the creation of a new Washington Evaluators 2017-2020 Strategic Plan, approved by the Board of Directors on May 17, 2017. I would especially like to thank the Board for their efforts in drafting the plan and all of the members who provided feedback on an earlier draft in recent weeks to support improving our organization.
A hallmark of the evaluation profession is assessing actions against stated goals. With the creation of this plan, Washington Evaluators as an organization is not only demonstrating the value of this proposition, but actively pursuing a well-known organizational best practice. This strategic plan has been developed to serve as a guide for Washington Evaluators for the remainder of this year and in coming years, as the organization strives to focus on "Strengthening the Evaluation Community in the Washington, DC Area."
Currently Washington Evaluators performs well on many levels, but there is always room for improvement and a need to know where we are starting from. As Washington Evaluators becomes more mature as an organization, this plan will be a guide for the Board of Directors and enable the development of annual action plans that contribute to achieving longer-term goals. It is my hope and intent that in coming years, future Boards will review and update the plan to ensure that the members of Washington Evaluators are receiving useful services and professional development opportunities that truly serve the Washington, DC community well for years to come.
And to demonstrate how progress will be made in accomplishing the goals and objectives in the 2017-2020 Strategic Plan, the Board is pleased to also announce a 2017 Action Plan as a complement, with specific short-term goals the Board will pursue this year. All of these actions are reasonably attainable – and some are even bold and ambitious – as Washington Evaluators embarks on a renewed effort for continuous organizational improvement.
The Board and our many volunteers have much work to do in this exciting year for evaluation in DC, but we are up to the challenge. On behalf of the entire Board, we look forward to your continued participation in the Washington Evaluators community.
Nicholas R. Hart, Ph.D.
UPDATE: The final strategic plan was approved by the Board of Directors on May 17, 2017. For an updated version of this post and links to the approved plan, click here.
Dear Washington Evaluators Members --
I am excited to announce that over the last several months, the Board of Directors of Washington Evaluators has been engaged in a comprehensive strategic planning process for the organization. For professional evaluators, we know that strategic plans are incredibly valuable documents in outlining strategies for achieving organizational excellence and eventually assessing organizational performance.
One of my goals as President in 2017, articulated at the beginning of the year, is to reinforce the organization's infrastructure to ensure the sustainability of Washington Evaluators well into the future. Developing a robust strategic plan is one small step toward fulfilling that goal.
As part of our development of this strategy and plan, we are specifically seeking input from all active members of Washington Evaluators. Linked below is a draft document the Board will consider during the May 2017 Board meeting. We would like your feedback on the revised organizational mission statement, strategic goals, and objectives outlined in the plan.
Comments will be accepted on the plan from today through midnight on May 15th. Let us know what you think is most valuable to prioritize, or other goals and objectives you believe should be included in the plan.
Review the Draft Strategic Plan
Submit Comments on the Draft Strategic Plan until 11:59 PM EST, Monday, May 15
Thank you in advance for your feedback and your continued contributions to the D.C. evaluation community.
Nick Hart, Ph.D.
(c) 2017 Washington Evaluators