Christopher Spera, PhD, President & CEO of Arbor Research Collaborative for Health, has published “Facing Evidence Fears: From Compliance to Learning”, in the Brookings Publication titled “Next Generation Evidence”, which proposes a paradigm shift towards a learning framework to elevate the impact of health and social programs across the United States.
Dr. Spera delves into the shortcomings of traditional approaches to program evaluation and emphasizes the need for a strategic shift to a learning mindset. Drawing on his extensive experience, particularly during his tenure as the director of research and evaluation at AmeriCorps, Dr. Spera tackles three core issues:
1.) Common Challenges to Conducting Evaluations: Dr. Spera emphasizes the need for increased investments in evaluations, simplified presentation of findings for better comprehension, and the importance of distinguishing between perceived and actual burdens on program staff.
2.) Viewing Evaluation through a Learning versus an Accountability Lens: Dr. Spera discusses the inherent tension between using evaluation for learning and program improvement versus accountability and funding decisions. He highlights the importance of building trust with program directors and fostering a culture where evaluations are seen as tools for learning and improvement rather than punitive measures.
and 3.) Increasing Internal Capacity of Organizations: Dr. Spera underscores the critical need for internal capacity within organizations to conduct high-quality evaluations. He advocates for investment in skilled professionals and the development of a robust internal evaluation infrastructure to support both internal evaluations and external collaborations.
In reflecting on the progress made in the program evaluation field over the past two decades, Dr. Spera acknowledges significant strides but calls for a more accelerated pace, particularly in leveraging the abundance of data available in the era of “big data everywhere.”
“As we move into the next decade of ‘big data everywhere’, I am hopeful the field will begin to gallop ahead, and the use of evidence to drive major program and policy decisions will become the norm versus the outlier,” said Dr. Spera.
“The ability to leverage evidence is a key differentiator among thriving and successful businesses, ‘Facing Evidence Fears’ is a commitment to guiding organizations in embracing a culture of learning and agility, and ultimately, success,” said Dr. Spera. “By overcoming the fears associated with evidence, organizations can unlock their true potential for innovation and growth.”
In addition to this publication, Dr. Spera has published over 20 peer-reviewed publications and over 50 technical reports. Dr. Spera graduated from the University of Maryland with a doctorate in human development and quantitative methodology and has expertise in health outcomes research, including program evaluation, applied research, and policy analysis. Dr. Spera currently leads Arbor Research Collaborative for Health and has previously served in leadership roles in several contract research organizations with a track record of expanding the mission impact of an organization. Dr. Spera has served as Principal Investigator and/or Corporate Oversight on hundreds of projects within the health policy, public health and epidemiology, and behavioral health areas, and is also a Professor of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy.