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What’s the difference between research and evaluation – and what does it mean for when you commission an evaluator? (04 Mar 18)

While research is about collecting data, evaluation is about using that data to bring about change

Getting an evaluation right isn’t always easy.

You need to use research methods but who you also need to understand an organisation and its projects. That’s because you are seeking to bring about change.

There is some overlap between research and evaluation. Evaluation uses research methods and is a type of research. That’s why evaluation is sometimes called “evaluation research”.

Nonetheless, important differences exist. 

First of all, a researcher understands how to collect information for example by means of surveys, focus groups and analysis of demographic information.

However, a researcher does not necessarily have the skills to work with an organisation to help it define what it requires in order to understand the effectiveness of its services and to improve those services.

An evaluation focuses on ways to measure activities, outputs, and outcomes.  A researcher is not necessarily accustomed to doing this. 

Secondly, the focus of research often differs from the focus of evaluation. Evaluation always seeks to understand what an organisation does and what outcomes it produces.  Research can cover many other topics, or just test abstract scientific hypotheses.

Research does not have to produce practical information for making decisions about specific projects and programmes.

For the commissioning process, this means that an organisation should make certain that the candidates they consider have evaluation skills, not just research skills.

Consider this analogy, which is not perfect, but it should help to get my point across.

Whose opinion would you find more reassuring regarding the safety of a bridge that you need to cross. Would it be a professor of physics (a researcher/theorist) who studies general laws of physics?  Or would it be a structural engineer who studies the specific characteristics of a bridge at a certain time and assesses its sturdiness?

The structural engineer resembles the evaluation consultant in that they are someone who take general research principles and applies them to real world questions.

My suggestion to you is that you bear in mind the points I have made when you next interview evaluation consultants. Next week I’ll give you 13 questions you can use so keep an eye on your inbox.

Here’s a course Data Analysis for Accidental Analysts that might interest you. It runs at Euston, London on the 25 April 2018 or we can run it in house if there is a lot of you. Email me  rod@rodlaird.co.uk.  




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