NOTES: A Prospective Evaluation -- Imagining the Future
Most state legislatures
require that a 'fiscal note' be attached to a bill before it can be acted upon, either in committee or in the full chamber.
The U.S. Congress adopted the same practice several years ago. In essence, a fiscal note is a prospective program evaluation.
It outlines the purpose, operational requirements, and intended outcomes of the legislation. Writing a fiscal note requires
all of the same skills and methodological sophistication that an evaluation requires, but it is entirely prospective, while
an evaluation is retrospective. Identifying the pitfalls in fiscal notes can prove useful in designing evaluations.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but
planning and thoughtful preparation can make changes less surprising. Comparing
results to what was planned or anticipated can be particularly instructive. When
programs fail, we have a chance to learn about how we need to revise our assumptions and methods. Looking at the methods for writing fiscal notes, and comparing them thoughtfully to Richard Elmore’s
“Backward Mapping,” one can identify gaps in reasoning about the logic models used in developing a fiscal note,
particularly with regard to performance.
To get a sense of what legislators
expect, see examples from various states, especially the training manuals: