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Evaluating Welfare Reform in an Era of Transition
for social welfare programs that considers the major questions of interest and the evaluation methods appropriate for each is needed. A comprehensive framework for evaluation should be developed and used to guide the evaluation efforts under way by private and other public evaluation organizations. This should be an on-going effort as new issues emerge and is a responsibility that should be taken on by ASPE in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition, the annual report to Congress recommended in Chapter 3 should include both a discussion of the important questions of welfare reform we outlined and a presentation of the alternative evaluation methods that are currently being used to study these questions, including those studies funded by ASPE as well as by others. The report should discuss the relative mix of experimental and nonexperimental methods being used and should present the agency’s views on whether the appropriate balance and mix is being achieved, in light of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each evaluation method. It should discuss which nonexperimental methods are being used and whether there is an appropriate balance for them. It should also relate ASPE’s own research agenda on evaluation methods to the overall landscape of evaluation and should present what it sees as its own role in support of good evaluation methods.
Recommendation 4.9 In its annual report to Congress, ASPE should review the existing landscape of evaluation methods, whether the appropriate balance of experimental and different nonexperimental methods is being achieved, and how evaluation methodology fits into its own research agenda.
At the state level, the capacity to conduct evaluations is very weak, both experimental and nonexperimental evaluations. This situation must be addressed if better and more appropriately focused and directed evaluations are to take place. Here we recommend again that the federal government exert a leadership role in assisting states. In fact, both ASPE and ACF already expend some portion of their personnel and resources toward such assistance, for example, through the welfare reform research and welfare outcomes conferences they have hosted for the past 3 years. But much more capacity-building effort is needed.
Conclusion 4.9 The panel finds that state capacity and resources to conduct evaluations of their own welfare reform programs is often below the level needed for such an important change in policy.
Recommendation 4.10 The panel recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continue and expand its efforts to build capacity for conducting high-quality program evaluations at the state level through the provision of technical assistance,