image Visit coronavirus.govVisit disclaimer page for the latest Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) updates.
View ACF COVID-19 Responses and Resources

GOALS Summary Report

May 31, 2019
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Goal-Oriented Adult Learning in Self-Sufficiency (GOALS), 2014-2020 | Learn more about this project
GOALS Summary Report Cover Image
Download report (pdf)
  • File Size 1mb
  • Pages 34
  • Published 2019


Practitioners, policymakers, and researchers are continually exploring and evaluating ways to support low-income families in increasing their economic independence. The fields of psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science suggest new options for developing and studying interventions to increase employment among low-income adults. A particular area of interest is self-regulation, which is the ability to control thoughts, actions, and emotions (Blair and Raver 2015; Murray et al. 2015; Anderson et al. 2017). Research suggests that self-regulation is necessary for both goal setting and goal pursuit and that self-regulation continues to develop in adulthood, though adults may have difficulty in using their self-regulation skills when under stress. In 2014, OPRE awarded a contract to Mathematica Policy Research to conduct the Goal-Oriented Adult Learning in Self-Sufficiency (GOALS) project in order to explore how emerging insights about self-regulation and goal pursuit can inform employment programs for adults.

Primary Research Questions

  1. 1 How does existing research describe psychological processes associated with goal-directed behavior? What does existing research say about improving goal-directed behavior in adults?
  2. 2 What are we learning from existing programs that are guided by psychology-informed frameworks? Have existing programs using psychology-informed frameworks undergone evaluation?
  3. 3 What are the options for strengthening and measuring goal-directed behaviors in adults and for testing interventions?


This final report summarizes the major tasks conducted under GOALS and the resulting products. The report has two objectives: (1) to describe the motivation behind each project task, how each task answered the key research questions guiding the project, and how later tasks were informed by and built on earlier ones; and (2) to highlight key findings from each task.

Key Findings and Highlights

A key finding from the GOALS project is that programs seeking to help low-income adults achieve economic self-sufficiency may be able to integrate a set of lessons from psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science into their interventions. Research suggests the existence of potentially effective strategies for strengthening self-regulation skills and goal achievement among low-income adults in employment programs. Yet, given that only a few programs for low-income adults have attempted to implement these strategies to improve participants’ employment outcomes, we still have much to learn about which strategies could most effectively and efficiently be integrated into such programs and how best to do so. And, to date, no employment programs explicitly addressing self-regulation and goal achievement have undergone rigorous testing. Measuring the outcomes and impacts on skills and behaviors of interventions targeting self-regulation and goal attainment can be challenging, but can provide critical information on whether an intervention is working as intended and why as well as who might be most likely to benefit from the intervention.


This report is based on research conducted under the GOALS project funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The key research activities included: (1) a synthesis of the literature on the relationship between self-regulation, goal attainment, and the environment and on how programs have been or could be adapted to promote goal attainment; (2) development of a conceptual framework depicting these relationships; (3) exploratory site visits to programs implementing interventions to improve participants’ self-regulation and goal achievement; (4) production of a special topics paper on measurement of self-regulation and goal-directed behaviors; and (5) assessment of the implementation experiences of several goal-oriented pilot interventions. Throughout the project, consultations with experts guided the data collection, analysis, and development of study products.


Kauff, Jacqueline F. and Elizabeth W. Cavadel (2018). GOALS Summary Report, OPRE Report #2019-39, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


cognitive and emotional skills and personality factors that allow people to intentionally control their thoughts, emotions, and behavior (Blair and Raver 2015; Murray et al. 2015; Anderson et al. 2017)
Last Reviewed: May 30, 2019