Evaluation research is applied research (solving practical problems) which offers different outcomes to pure research (proving scientific theories). Evaluation research is especially important at times of renewed funding or investment to answer questions such as: where are our resources best placed for maximum benefit to our clients? Evaluation research at its very heart is based on an action research cycle that includes five elements:
- define the issue, observe and collect data;
- plan program or intervention;
- act or intervene;
- analyse and reflect on the action or intervention; and
- report the findings.
This type of evaluation research then offers decision makers with the opportunity to refine their program to improve the experience and outcomes for their clients in the second and subsequent cycles of delivery.
Evaluation research is also known as policy implementation analysis due to its close association with the policy cycle and often occurs once a policy intervention, in the form of a program, is fist implemented. Where the policy intervention is large or perhaps considered to be untested, a small-scale pilot phase with a representative sample of clients is often conducted. This allows for learnings from the pilot to inform the next phase of the intervention or program. Even when interventions or programs have been operating over a long period of time evaluation offers decision makers with reassurance that the program is meeting is purpose and objectives and offer ongoing opportunities to identify areas for improvement.