Training evaluation in the public sector

Patricia Pulliam Phillips


There is growing pressure on public sector organizations to show results of programs and processes including employer-sponsored training. Yet, there is only limited research describing the use of training evaluation models in public sector organizations. This research describes current training evaluation practices in US public sector organizations including federal, state, and local agencies. It offers a framework for training evaluation in public sector organizations and prescribes a set of solutions to overcome barriers currently preventing the implementation of comprehensive evaluation including return on investment (ROI). Survey research was employed to gather data on the use of training evaluation. The sample population was drawn from membership lists of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR). Data from the survey show that training evaluation in public sector organizations occurs primarily at Level 1 (reaction) and Level 2 (learning) using the Phillips five-level framework. However, progress is being made at Level 3 (application), Level 4 (impact), and Level 5 (ROI). Criteria for selecting programs to evaluate at Level 5 include the program's importance to strategic objectives, the linkage to operational goals and issues, and program cost. Criteria for selecting an ROI methodology require that the process be credible, simple, and appropriate for a variety of programs, as well as economical. Research findings are consistent with previous research conducted in healthcare and business and industry. They show there is slightly lower use of all levels of evaluation in the public sector than that in the private sector. Barriers to training evaluation include evaluation costs, lack of training or experience, and the organizational perspective that evaluation is not required. Recommendations for practice include incorporating utility measures into Level 1 evaluation, developing an evaluation policy, taking cost-savings approaches, participating in learning forums, building competencies in ROI, and using evaluation data. Recommendations for future research include a study on stakeholder perspective of training evaluation, drivers for ROI in the federal government, and replication of the public sector study in non-profit and academic sector as well as in the international realm.