Public Health Assessment & Program Evaluation

 Difference between Research and Evaluation

Last Updated: August 06, 2018

What is the difference between research and evaluation?1

Research Evaluation

Purpose is testing theory and producing generalizable findings.

Purpose is to determine the effectiveness of a specific program or model.
Questions originate with scholars in a discipline.Questions originate with key stakeholders and primary intended users of evaluation findings.
Quality and importance judged by peer review in a discipline.Quality and importance judged by those who will use the findings to take action and make decisions
Ultimate test of value is contribution to knowledge.Ultimate test of value is usefulness to improve effectiveness.

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Many people commonly have questions about the specific distinctions between evaluation and research. The following sources provide information on these distinctions:

    Stanford UniversityExternal Link
    Research results in knowledge that can be generalized and endeavors to create new knowledge.  Evaluation assesses the merit of a program and provides input for informed decision making.  Research examines how something works, while evaluation looks at how well something works.

    Nonprofit Capacity Building BlogExternal Link
    Evaluation tends to be less complicated than research.  Many people engage in informal evaluation on a daily basis.  Formal evaluation and research processes are "systematic and rigorous," but they differ in that evaluation focuses on a program, determines value, and happens in real time, while research focuses on populations and stays value-free.

    There are a variety of purposes and approaches to research and evaluation.  Research pursues answers to questions to create new knowledge.  Evaluation uses data to guide decision making, determine if and how a program is meeting its goal and objectives, and establishes long-term effects of a program.

    BetterEvaluation Blog External Link
    Evaluation and research are generally seen as two separate and mutually exclusive classifications.  This is not always the case, as there may be some overlap between the two.  Evaluation may also be viewed as a subset of research, and vice versa.

    Sandra Mathison – Issues of the ProfessionExternal Link
    Although there are some who argue that evaluation and research are no different, they are in fact different but interconnected.

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United States Army Public Health Program Evaluation

Click here to learn more about Program Evaluation at the US Army Public Health Center.
Click here to see examples of Program Evaluation.

1. Adapted from Patton, Michael Quinn (2014). Evaluation Flash Cards: Embedding Evaluative Thinking in Organizational Culture. St. Paul, MN:  Otto Bremer Foundation, Accessed 27 July 2018.