Key Issues > Data-Driven Decision Making
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Data-Driven Decision Making

Federal agencies should use data to effectively track progress and achieve goals. 

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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.

Performance Reviews

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.

Evidence-Based Tools

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
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
Overview of a Tiered Evidence Grant Model with Three Tiers

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    • J. Christopher Mihm
    • Managing Director, Strategic Issues
    • mihmj@gao.gov
    • 202-512-6806