Mapping the Institutionalization of Evaluation in the U.S. Federal Government



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Despite marked growth in evaluation use and capacity in the U.S. Federal Government over the last 50 years, the levers that have driven institutional change have not previously been identified. Knowledge of effective and ineffective mechanisms guides efficient approaches to complex organizational change. This dissertation adopts a novel mapping method to study the process and factors that have led to the diffusion of value in evaluation in the U.S. Federal Government. It is an ethnographic study, grounded in social anthropological techniques, that combines interview data from 15 evaluation experts with content and discourse analyses of the U.S. President’s Budget Analytical Perspectives from fiscal years 1996-2020 to capture shifts in the prioritization of evaluation over time. Thematic analyses of interview data revealed several actors, events, or policies of note that influenced the (de)institutionalization of evaluation. A content and discourse analysis of the Analytical Perspectives demonstrated a progression toward institutionalization by analyzing the prevalence of related key terms and shifts in language. It was discovered that beliefs and actions toward institutionalization are manifested through a progression from cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and structural influences, and that the types of factors at play can impact processes across any level of a nested ecosystem. This study offers unique insight to the trajectory of evaluation in the U.S. Federal Government. Findings may be instrumental to policymakers and organizational leaders who continue to work toward institutionalizing evaluation in the federal government or other complex organizations.