Steady Hand at the Wheel: Using an Incremental, Systematic Approach to Promote an Evaluation Culture in a Federal Organization
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has gradually emerged as the leading face of evaluation across the entire Department of Energy, prompting the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to refer to EERE as exemplar in evaluation practice, despite a list of formidable odds. The relative success that EERE has had in moving the organization (comprised of 10 energy efficiency and renewable energy offices) towards a culture of evaluation belie a staunch and obdurate resistance born of the usual objections: 1) the difficulties of evaluating R&D and technology deployment programs; 2) the political repercussions if findings are negative; 3) the absence of any perceived benefits even if findings are positive; and 4) the absence of dedicated resources to advance an evaluation culture. We developed a strategic, incremental approach to overcome these and several, additional entrenched objections, sometimes through careful planning, sometimes through the stroke of fortune. Central to our approach has been: 1) careful targeting of sympathetic program leads, with whom we partnered to conduct some successful evaluations; 2) developing a message to leadership to sell evaluation as the useful tool for management that it is, and emphasizing the benefits accrued to offices that joined us to evaluate some of their investments; 3) developing accessible guides and standards to support the conduct of evaluation; 4) providing training opportunities to staff to develop their skills in evaluation; and 5) convincing upper management to make the use of evaluative information a performance assessment requirement. We discuss the progress made to date with our evaluation strategy, and our thinking on next steps in strengthening a lively, useful culture of evaluation in the organization.