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What Makes Gov’t Programs Successful? Think Tank Provides Check List

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What makes for a successful government program? For some, the term might seem like an oxymoron.

After all, less than one-third of Americans have confidence that the federal government can solve problems, according to recent Center for American Progress survey.

But, with an exhaustive new study, “Doing What Works,” CAP aims to take the guesswork out of success on the federal level in favor of a measured, repeatable, comprehensive method — it could be deemed the checklist approach.

The report, which surveyed 200 experts over the span of six months, is a study in setting goals, asking important questions and checking off items from a list of milestones.

Even though the 90-page is report provides very specific recommendations, at heart, the solutions are simple.

“The secret basically is you should ask yourself a fairly systematic and standard set of questions both at the program design stage and program evaluation stage,” said Jitinder Kohli, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and one of the authors of the new report, according to  Federal News Radio.

Policymakers should be prepared to ask questions, such as: Are the program’s goals and cost estimates clear? Is a new program even the right approach to take? Does the program implement the right incentives?

Often, the issues with failing government programs come down to “design flaws,” fatal missteps designed into the program. Sometimes it’s as basic as policymakers failing to ask if the program is really needed; sometimes, it’s more complex: does the program institute the best incentives, and have they been properly implemented?

Even though the report’s findings aim to pinpoint success factors down to a “T,” success is never guaranteed.

“The thing about government is what we do is actually hard,” CAP researcher Kohli said, “and the work of government involves trying to change the behavior of people who are often a long way away from government through programs that are designed a long way away. It’s hard to get that absolutely right … Sometimes, things will just fail, even though you do it in the right way.”

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