Broadly speaking, reserach projects set out to explore answers to a question. Research methodologies give us structured ways to better understand our clients, our programs, and how well we are functioning. Research projects can be large or small. Some may be complex, involving multiple partners and external funding, while others may be a small internal undertaking using data that is already routinely collected in your service delivery. Research can also be primary or secondary. Primary research is original information that is specifically collected for the exact purpose that you need it for; secondary research is data or information that already exists that was most likely collected for another purpose but still serves as a valuable information source (usually you start with secondary research, and use primary reserach to fill in any information gaps – this can save a lot of time and funding).
Evaluation projects are a specific type of research. Often evaluation is used interchangeably with monitoring; however, there is a need to distinguish between processes for monitoring and evaluation, which often tends to be misunderstood. Both are important elements to any program, service, initiative, etc. for an organization.
Monitoring (also referred to as ongoing evaluatory activity) is usually done shortly after you intiate a new program, service or initiative, and continually done while the program, service or initiative is running to help you determine whether you need to make any adjustments. You don’t want to be spending funds on a program, service or initiative that is not resonating with your target audience and more importantly, not achieving your organizational objectives. Monitoring focuses on process.
Evaluation is a final report on the overall results of the program, service or initiative responding to your achievement of objectives. In addition, evaluations also look at how effectively the program, service or initiative was delivered (eg. on time and on budget). It also looks at what worked, what didn’t and lessons learned for future campaigns. Evaluation focuses on outcomes.
Most organizations engage in monitoring/ongoing evaluatory activity as part of their operations through a plan, do, study, act (PDSA) cycle, as shown in the figure below. Layered on top of this backdrop of ongoing evaluation and improvement, specific applied research and evaluation projects can provide you with additional information to meet your clients’ needs.