Evaluation & research. Part 2: Similarities & differences

Dr Suzana Sukovic

In the previous blog post we invited our readers to tell us how they think about the relationship between evaluation and research. If you wish to participate in the poll, please refer to our previous post or go straight to the poll (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HETIBlog_ResearchEval)

In this post, I will consider the main similarities and differences, and potential audience to communicate evaluation and research results.

The main connection between evaluation and research is that both aim to answer some questions in a systematic way. Both contribute to our learning and enhance our knowledge.

The main point of difference between the two, is their purpose. Evaluation is a program-oriented assessment. It is making judgments about value, effectiveness, relationships between programs and so on. Research, on the other hand, is problem and enquiry-oriented. Original research is about the creation of new knowledge.

Let’s look at some definitions.

Definition of evaluation:

  1. An evaluation is an assessment, conducted as systematically and impartially as possible, of an activity, project, programme, strategy, policy, topic, theme, sector, operational area or institutional performance. It analyses the level of achievement of both expected and unexpected results by examining the results chain, processes, contextual factors and causality using appropriate criteria such as relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability. An evaluation should provide credible, useful evidence-based information that enables the timely incorporation of its findings, recommendations and lessons into the decision-making processes of organizations and stakeholders.
  2. The purposes of evaluation are to promote accountability and learning. Evaluation aims to understand why — and to what extent — intended and unintended results were achieved and to analyse the implications of the results. Evaluation can inform planning, programming, budgeting, implementation and reporting and can contribute to evidence-based policymaking, development effectiveness and organizational effectiveness.

United Nations Evaluation Group Norms and Standards for Evaluation (2016, p. 10)

Definition of research

“Research is defined as the creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it leads to new and creative outcomes.” (2016 HERDC Specifications for the collection of 2015 data p. 6)

Both evaluation and research investigate something we don’t know. The ways of knowing are essentially the same, so evaluation and research share the same research methods and techniques. For this reason, it makes sense to say that we do research whenever we do evaluation (but not the other way round).

Participants, on the other hand, are a point of difference. In evaluation, participants are people involved in or related to the program. In research, participants can be anyone whose participation is relevant for the study.

It is important to remember that evaluation and research can merge almost seamlessly. For example, evaluation findings may reveal issues which require an investigative research approach. Also, research often leads to the creation of new programs, which may be evaluated to provide additional and practice-based data for research. It is important to communicate the results of evaluation and research because they provide evidence-based answers.

But, who is the audience? It depends on the context and nature of the project. Evaluation always has purpose and audience in its local context – organisation, community, governing or funding body. Evaluation results may also be of interest to a broader professional community to inform their practice. Results of research projects, on the other hand, need to be reported locally, may provide answers for local purposes, and may inform practice, but the main audience is usually the broader scholarly community. An understanding of who may be interested in the findings of evaluation and research will inform decisions about the dissemination of results.

Evaluation & research: similarities & differences

Evalation And Research Table

Evaluation And Research Table


  1. Following on from the first blog post and assessing differing opinions on research and evaluation, I appreciated reading the discussion of how evaluation as a process is placed within the research context. I particularly liked the table which just goes to show I am far more of a visual learner than I ever knew! Thanks.

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