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National Audit Office report: Evaluating government spending

Evaluating government spending

This report examines government’s progress in developing the provision and use of evaluation evidence across government.

Background to the report

Evaluation is a systematic assessment of the design, implementation and outcomes of an intervention. Central government guidance makes it clear that departments are expected to undertake comprehensive, robust and proportionate evaluations of their interventions. It is one of many types of evidence that can inform decision-making. Evaluation evidence can help governments understand which approaches work best and support accountability for decisions. Using evaluation evidence requires effective coordination between analysts, decision-makers and officials responsible for developing and implementing policy.

Our 2013 report, Evaluation in government, concluded that while government spends significant resources on evaluation, coverage of evaluation evidence was incomplete, and the rationale for what government evaluates was unclear. We also found that evaluations were often not robust enough to attribute the impact to the policy being evaluated, and that government did not effectively use the learning from these evaluations to improve impact and cost-effectiveness.

 

Scope of the report

This report examines government’s progress in developing the provision and use of evaluation evidence across government. Our primary focus for this report is on the role of HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and the Analysis Function in setting out requirements, incentives and oversight arrangements to support accounting officers in fulfilling their evaluation responsibilities.

We consider: what actions the government has taken since our 2013 report recommendations, including actions to adopt a strategic approach to evaluation; and progress in addressing systemic barriers to good evaluation and good use of evaluation evidence.

 

Report conclusions

While individual departments have undertaken initiatives to improve evaluation, the use of evaluation continues to be variable and inconsistent, and government has been slow to address the known barriers to improvement. As a result government cannot have confidence its spending in many policy areas is making a difference. Government has recently committed to improve evaluations, included requirements relating to evaluation in some spending decisions, and strengthened capacity through the creation of the Analysis Function and a central Evaluation Task Force. These interventions will take time to mature. Nevertheless, this renewed focus on evaluation is a welcome step to using evidence better and improving value for money.

Government needs to clarify responsibilities, oversight and communication of evaluation evidence. Building on the reforms it has made, and the efforts of individual departments, government will have to do more to address the systemic barriers to effective evaluation and the application of evaluation evidence to policy‑making. Otherwise it will not be able to ensure evaluations drive improved outcomes.

 

Publication details:

ISBN: 9781786044006 [Buy a hard copy of this report]

HC: 860, 2021-22

Published date: December 2, 2021