Evaluation is at the heart of good government; it helps us learn and adapt to changing environments; to communicate and share valuable information. Knowing what works and what doesn't enables us as policy makers and service deliverers to make better decisions. This ensures people are receiving the services they want and need and that taxpayers' money is being well spent.
We want NSW to lead the way in evidence-based policy by ensuring that program evaluation is an integral part of managing government programs at every stage of the policy cycle. This circular sets out the NSW Government's expectation for the regular evaluation and/or review of agency programs.
Evaluation should take place across the program lifecycle, from design to implementation and ongoing delivery. All agencies are expected to conduct periodic evaluations of their programs, both new and existing, to assess their continued relevance, relationship to cluster priorities and other programs, efficiency and effectiveness in delivering outcomes. Evaluations should be planned, managed and conducted in accordance with the recently developed Evaluation Framework.
Evaluation of some programs will be mandatory. These programs, by their nature, are likely to be major reforms that are large, complex, and expensive (see the Framework for further information) or where evaluation is required under a National or other agreement. Agencies should engage the in Treasury to evaluate these programs. Agencies will be required to prepare a rolling 12-month evaluation schedule outlining all program evaluations and other reviews of program effectiveness or efficiency (see below for further information).
While there are pockets of considerable evaluation expertise in some clusters, there is more work to be done to develop these skills more broadly across the sector. Clusters will need to invest in training to improve evaluation capability and increase their capacity to meet the new requirements. Strategic Centre agencies will support this work through the development and support of an Evaluation Community of Practice and online toolkit.
All new program proposals or proposals to expand or significantly reform existing programs will need to be submitted to ERC for consideration. Proposals must include:
To help manage evaluation and review activities for new and existing programs, clusters are required to prepare rolling 12-month schedules of programs to be evaluated or reviewed over the forward financial year.
Clusters should refer to the Evaluation Framework for guidance on program selection and prioritisation. It is recognised there will be a period of transition while clusters increase their capacity to manage evaluation and it is important clusters ensure schedules target the appropriate mix of programs as evaluation capacity and capability is increased and improved.
Schedules should include:
These schedules should be aligned to agency corporate planning cycles and internal decision making processes. They should also take into account reporting requirements to Cabinet, the Australian Government and other external bodies as appropriate. Schedules should be prepared each financial year, in consultation with DPC and Treasury, and submitted to ERC for approval beginning in 2013/14.
It is considered good practice to publish the findings of evaluations. In line with GIPA, agencies are mandated to proactively and publicly release the findings of program evaluations, unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of the information. Evaluation reports should be made available, alongside a plain English executive summary, on the commissioning agency's website and OpenGov NSW.