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Highlights

Federal agencies are increasingly expected to focus on achieving results and to demonstrate, in annual performance reports and budget requests, how their activities will help achieve agency or governmentwide goals. Assessing a program's impact or benefit is often difficult, but the dissemination programs GAO reviewed faced a number of evaluation challenges--either individually or in common. The breadth and flexibility of some of the programs made it difficult to measure national progress toward common goals. The programs had limited opportunity to see whether desired behavior changes occurred because change was expected after people made contact with the program, when they returned home or to work. The five programs GAO reviewed addressed these challenges with a variety of strategies, assessing program effects primarily on short-term and intermediate outcomes. Two flexible programs developed common measures to conduct nationwide evaluations; two others encouraged communities to tailor local evaluations to their own goals. Congressional interest was key to initiating most of these evaluations; collaboration with program partners, previous research, and evaluation expertise helped carry them out. Congressional concern about program effectiveness spurred two formal evaluation mandates and other program activities. Collaborations helped ensure that an evaluation would meet the needs of diverse stakeholders.

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