Data-Driven Decision Making
Federal agencies should use data to effectively track progress and achieve goals.
Using data—such as information collected by performance measures and findings from program evaluations and research studies—to drive decision making can help federal agencies improve program implementation, identify and correct problems, and make other management decisions. Although agencies struggle to effectively use this approach, regular performance reviews and evidence-based policy tools can help them incorporate performance information into federal decision making.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) and related guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) direct federal agencies to regularly conduct two different types of performance reviews, where agency leaders and managers assess performance information to determine progress toward meeting goals and objectives.
Strategic Reviews. OMB guidance directs agency leaders to conduct annual reviews of their progress toward achieving each strategic objective—the outcome or impact the agency wants to achieve through its programs and initiatives—established in their strategic plans.
There are seven practices federal agencies can use to conduct effective strategic reviews:
1. Establish a process for conducting strategic reviews.
2. Clarify and clearly define measurable outcomes for each strategic objective.
3. Review the strategies and other factors that influence outcomes, and determine which are most important.
4. Identify and include key stakeholders in the review.
5. Identify and assess evidence related to achieving strategic objectives.
6. Assess the effectiveness of achieving strategic objectives and identify actions needed to improve their implementation and impact.
7. Develop a process to monitor progress on needed actions.
Data-driven reviews. GPRAMA requires that agency leaders, at least once a quarter, must review and analyze data on progress toward their priority goals. These reviews should examine the progress over the most recent quarter, overall trends, the likelihood of meeting the planned level of performance and, if necessary, strategies to improve performance.
There are nine practices that agencies can use to promote successful data-driven performance reviews:
1. Leaders should use data-driven reviews to drive performance improvement.
2. Key players should attend reviews to facilitate problem solving.
3. Ensure alignment between agency goals, program activities, and resources.
4. Hold managers accountable for diagnosing performance problems and identifying strategies for improvement.
5. Ensure that the agency has the capacity to collect accurate, useful, and timely performance data.
6. Ensure that agency staff has the skills to analyze and clearly communicate complex data for decision making.
7. Enable meaningful performance discussions through rigorous preparation.
8. Conduct reviews regularly and frequently.
9. Ensure that participants engage in rigorous and sustained follow-up on issues identified during reviews.
Federal agencies can use evidence-based tools, such as Pay for Success and Tiered Evidence Grants, to consider the effectiveness of their programs, and foster innovation rooted in research and rigorous evaluation.
Pay for Success is a contracting mechanism under which investors provide the capital the government uses to implement a social service. The government specifies performance outcomes in Pay for Success contracts, and generally includes a requirement that a program’s impact be independently evaluated. Pay for Success oversight bodies also regularly review performance data, while those managing and investing in a project focus on performance and accountability.
Roles of Organizations Involved in Pay For Success Projects
Tiered Evidence Grants seek to incorporate evidence of effectiveness into grantmaking. Federal agencies establish tiers of grant funding based on the level of evidence grantees provide on their approaches to deliver social, educational, health, or other services. Smaller awards are used to test new and innovative approaches, while larger awards are used to scale up approaches that have strong evidence of effectiveness. This creates incentives for grantees to use approaches supported by evidence, and helps them build the capacity to conduct evaluations.
Overview of a Tiered Evidence Grant Model with Three Tiers
GAO-16-818: Published: Sep 21, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 2016.
Are federal grants rewarding results? A new policy tool called "tiered evidence grantmaking" allows federal agencies to award smaller amounts of grant funding to test promising ideas, and larger amounts to replicate practices with strong evidence of success. To help support innovation and reward results, agencies collect information on how health care, education, and social service projects are p...
GAO-15-819: Published: Sep 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2015.
GAO's work over the past 2 years shows that implementation of the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA) continues to be uneven, with varying effects on agencies' performance management. Some progress has been made in areas where GAO has made prior recommendations; however, GAO has continued to identify a range of long-standing challenges in the four areas discussed below.The executive branch still needs...
GAO-15-646: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2015.
Pay for Success (PFS), also known as Social Impact Bonds, is a new contracting mechanism to fund prevention programs, where investors provide capital to implement a social service— for example, to reduce recidivism by former prisoners. If the service provider achieves agreed upon outcomes, the government pays the investor, usually with a rate of return, based on savings from decreased use of mor...
GAO-15-602: Published: Jul 29, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2015.
GAO identified seven practices federal agencies can employ to facilitate effective strategic reviews and illustrated aspects of those practices through examples from the strategic review processes conducted at the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Education (Education), Homeland Security (DHS), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Nationa...
GAO-15-579: Published: Jul 7, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 2015.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires that federal agencies review progress on agency priority goals (APG) at least once a quarter. GPRAMA requires that reviews be conducted by top agency leaders, involve APG goal leaders and other contributors, and be used to identify at-risk goals and strategies to improve performance. While GPRAMA requires that agencies conduct reviews, it also r...
GAO-14-747: Published: Sep 26, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2014.
Agencies' reported use of performance information, as measured by GAO's use of performance information index, generally did not improve between 2007 and 2013. The index was derived from a set of survey questions in the 2007 and 2013 surveys that reflected the extent to which managers reported that their agencies used performance information for various management activities and decision making. GA...
GAO-13-228: Published: Feb 27, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2013.
GAO identified nine leading practices to promote successful data-driven performance reviews--referred to as quarterly performance reviews--at the federal level.Agency leaders use data-driven reviews as a leadership strategy to drive performance improvement.Key players attend reviews to facilitate problem solving.Reviews ensure alignment between agency goals, program activities, and resources.Agenc...