The Short Answer
(1) Performance accountability and performance or program evaluation both make use of performance measures. Evaluation is part of performance accountability.
(2) Different purposes: Evaluations provide a structured, disciplined analysis of how well a program works, so that managers and funders can make judgments about how and whether to change, continue or terminate a program and whether it is worth replicating. Evaluations sometimes tackle the challenge of differentiating the effect a program has on client outcomes from other “outside” factors.
(3) Performance accountability is a management and oversight process that makes use of evaluation findings, and many other sources of information to manage the program, track performance, report to stakeholders and improve performance.
They go out to parties on weekends.
Performance accountability, performance measurement and evaluation are all terms of art. Like other terms in this guide they do not have “standard” definitions, and different writers will define and use the terms differently.
(1) Performance accountability and evaluation both make use of performance measures, but evaluation is part of performance accountability. Evaluations provide a structured, disciplined, analysis of how well a program is working or has worked. Evaluations sometimes tackle the challenge of differentiating the effect a program has on client outcomes from other “outside” factors. Evaluations are often commissioned so that funders can make judgments about whether a program should continue to be funded, whether it should be changed, and whether it is worth replicating. Performance accountability is a management and oversight process that makes use of evaluation findings, and many other sources of information to manage the program, track performance, report to stakeholders and improve performance.
(2) The evaluation world is divided into at least two armed camps. First there are the evaluators who take their tradition from the audit world. They wear white coats. They do not “help” the program while it is operating for fear they will contaminate the findings. They pass judgment as objective outsiders. Their reports often come out two years after the program has ended telling what was wrong and why it failed.
Then there are the “self-evaluation” or “empowerment evaluation” folks. They see their role as partners with the program, providing feedback and helping make midcourse corrections. They use the same statistical methods as the first group, but see evaluation as a continuous process which helps improve the chance that the program will succeed. This guide holds a distinct preference for the second philosophy. Self evaluation methods are at the heart of performance accountability. They both use data to steer programs and improve performance.
(3) Rigor: Evaluations are rigorous, designed to stand up to academic scrutiny. Accountability is a real world process, pragmatic and sometimes political, using whatever information can be obtained, going on gut instinct when no information is available, doing whatever it takes to make the program work.
(4) One time vs. ongoing data collection and reporting. Evaluations are often structured as one time events. Often evaluations produce a single report. Performance accountability, on the other hand, requires the collection and use of data on a regular basis, and regular continuous reports.
(5) Approach to data collection: Evaluation data collection is often quite detailed, to the point that it sometimes burdens the program. Performance accountability, as presented in this guide, looks first for existing data before collecting new data. And it looks for the smallest possible data set which can be used to run the program. Both can use similar data collection methods including 100% reporting and sampling. Performance accountability makes use of all data available (anecdote, hunch, instinct).
(6) Expense: Evaluations can be expensive, partly because they are often performed by consulting firms or institutions which charge a lot of money to do the work. Performance measurement and accountability can and must be done by program staff themselves. This requires time, but usually less expense. Most managers should be able to answer the 7 Questions on a periodic basis without new staff resources.
(7) Do you need both? Often you do. All programs need some form of performance measurement and accountability.Evaluations can take data based judgments about performance to a higher more rigorous level. They can answer questions (such as “Is this program worth replicating?”) in a more complete and disciplined way. And often research evaluations are the only way to get concrete information on cause and effect relationships.
(8) How could I learn more about evaluation? Here are some resources