Program evaluation (commonly referred to as ‘evaluation’) can be defined as the systematic and unbiased assessment of the efficiency, effectiveness or appropriateness of government policies or programs (or parts of policies or programs). Under the enhanced Commonwealth performance framework, performance monitoring and comprehensive evaluations are identified as key mechanisms that entities can use for reporting on their performance through their annual performance statements.
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C or the department) has been the lead agency for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs since 2013. With the introduction of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) in 2014, 27 programs were consolidated into five broad programs under a single outcome, with $4.8 billion initially committed over four years from 2014–15. The Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO’s) performance audit of the IAS (Auditor-General Report No.35 2016–17) noted that the department did not have a formal evaluation strategy or evaluation funding for the IAS for its first two years.
In February 2017 the Minister for Indigenous Affairs announced funding of $40 million over four years from 2017–18 to strengthen IAS evaluation, which would be underpinned by a formal evidence and evaluation framework. In February 2018 the department released an IAS evaluation framework document, describing high level principles for how evaluations of IAS programs should be conducted, and outlining future capacity-building activities and broad governance arrangements.
There is strong interest from Parliament and the community in ensuring funding provided through government programs achieves intended outcomes. Effective performance measurement and evaluation is critical to determining whether these outcomes are being achieved.
The audit was undertaken to provide assurance that the design and early implementation of the department’s evaluation framework for the IAS has been effective. It also provided an opportunity to assess the early impacts of the framework on evaluation practices and inform its ongoing management.
To form a conclusion against this objective, the ANAO adopted the following high level criteria:
- Has the department’s evaluation framework been designed to support the achievement of the Government’s policy objectives? (Chapter 2)
- Is the department’s evaluation framework being effectively implemented and managed? (Chapter 3)
- Are evaluations being conducted in accordance with the department’s evaluation framework to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples? (Chapter 4)