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[On May 20, 2011, GAO issued GAO-11-646SP, Performance Measurement and 
Evaluation: Definitions and Relationships, which supersedes this document] 

United States Government Accountability Office:


May 2005:

Performance Measurement and Evaluation:

Definitions and Relationships:


Program Performance Assessment:

Both the executive branch and congressional committees need evaluative 
information to help them make decisions about the programs they 
oversee--information that tells them whether, and in what important 
ways, a program is working well or poorly, and why. In enacting the 
Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), Congress 
expressed frustration that executive branch and congressional 
decisionmaking was often hampered by the lack of good information on 
the results of federal program efforts. Seeking to promote improved 
federal management and the increased efficiency and effectiveness of 
federal programs, GPRA instituted a governmentwide requirement for 
agencies to set goals and report annually on program performance.

Many analytic approaches have been employed over the years by the 
agencies and others to assess the operations and results of federal 
programs, policies, activities, and organizations. Periodically, 
individual evaluation studies are designed to answer specific questions 
about how well a program is working, and thus such studies may take 
several fonns. GPRA explicitly recognizes and encourages a 
complementary role for these types of program assessment: annual 
performance reports are to include both performance measurement results 
and program evaluation findings. Both performance measures and program 
evaluation play key roles in the Program Assessment Rating Tool that 
the Office of Management and Budget introduced in 2002 to examine 
federal programs in the budget formulation process.

This glossary describes and explains the relationship between two 
common types of systematic program assessments: performance measures 
and program evaluations. It is based on GAO publications and program 
evaluation literature and was first prepared in 1998. Major 
contributors were Stephanie Shipman and Joseph Wholey. Please address 
any questions to Stephanie Shipman (202) 512-4041.

Signed by: 

Nancy R. Kingsbury, Managing Director: 
Applied Research and Methods:

Types of Program Performance Assessment:

Performance Measurement:

Performance measurement is the ongoing monitoring and reporting of 
program accomplishments, particularly progress toward preestablished 
goals. It is typically conducted by program or agency management.

Performance measures may address the type or level of program activities conducted (process), the direct products and services delivered by a program (outputs), or the results of those products and services (outcomes).

A "program" may be any activity, project, function, or policy that has 
an identifiable purpose or set of objectives.

Program Evaluation: 

Program evaluations are individual systematic studies conducted 
periodically or on an ad hoc basis to assess how well a program is 
working. They are often conducted by experts external to the program, 
either inside or outside the agency, as well as by program managers.

A program evaluation typically examines achievement of program 
objectives in the context of other aspects of program performance or in 
the context in which it occurs. Four main types can be identified, all 
of which use measures of pro-gram performance, along with other 
information, to learn the benefits of a program or how to improve it.

Relationship between Performance Measurement and Program Evaluation:

Different Focus:

Performance measurement focuses on whether a program has achieved its 
objectives, expressed as measurable performance standards. Pro gram 
evaluations typically examine a broader range of information on program 
performance and its con-text than is feasible to monitor on an ongoing 

Depending on their focus, evaluations may examine aspects of program 
operations (such as in a process evaluation) or factors in the program 
environment that may impede or contribute to its success, to help 
explain the linkages between program inputs, activities, outputs, and 
outcomes. Alternatively, evaluations may assess the program's effects 
beyond its intended objectives, or estimate what would have occurred 
in the absence of the program, in order to assess the program's net 
impact. Additionally, program evaluations may systematically compare 
the effectiveness of alternative programs aimed at the same objective.

Different Use: 

Both fonns of assessment aim to support resource allocation and other 
policy decisions to improve service delivery and program effectiveness. 
But performance measurement, because of its ongoing nature, can serve 
as an early warning system to management and as a vehicle for improving 
accountability to the public.

A program evaluation's typically more in-depth examination of program 
performance and context allows for an overall assessment of whether the 
program works and identification of adjustments that may improve its 

Types of Program Evaluation:

Process (or Implementation) Evaluation:

This form of evaluation assesses the extent to which a program is 
operating as it was intended. It typically assesses program 
activities' conformance to statutory and regulatory requirements, 
program design, and professional standards or customer expectations.

Outcome Evaluation:

This form of evaluation assesses the extent to which a program achieves 
its outcome-oriented objectives. It focuses on outputs and outcomes 
(including unintended effects) to judge program effectiveness but may 
also assess program process to understand how outcomes are produced.

Impact Evaluation:

Impact evaluation is a form of out-come evaluation that assesses the 
net effect of a program by comparing program outcomes with an estimate 
of what would have happened in the absence of the program. This form of 
evaluation is employed when external factors are known to influence 
the program's outcomes, in order to isolate the program's contribution 
to achievement of its objectives.

Cost-Benefit and Cost-Effectiveness Analyses:

These analyses compare a program's outputs or outcomes with the costs 
(resources expended) to produce them. When applied to existing 
programs, they are also considered a form of program evaluation. Cost- 
effectiveness analysis assesses the cost of meeting a single goal or 
objective and can be used to identify the least costly alternative for 
meeting that goal. Cost-benefit analysis aims to identify all relevant 
costs and benefits, usually expressed in dollar terms. 

[End of Glossary]

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