The Role of Evaluation in Research Projects

Submitted by Cadre-Admin on Tue, 05/21/2024 - 13:41

Dan Hanley, Western Washington University; Jessica Sickler, J. Sickler Consulting

Photos of Dan Hanley and Jessica SicklerThis conversation and summary were originally released in the August 2022 CADRE Newsletter and are being repromoted on the Community Voices blog to provide continued support to prospective DRK-12 awardees during the proposal devleopment process.

CADRE discussed the role of evaluation and STEM education research with two scholars, Dr. Dan Hanley and Jessica Sickler, who are involved in both research AND evaluation for NSF-funded projects. We thought that they could provide helpful insights into the potential role of evaluation in current STEM education research projects. Since project proposals that are submitted to NSF must include a plan for external review in addition to the research plan, we hope these insights will be useful for those designing research projects. 

The written summary includes key ideas from the conversation and their reflections on the following questions. 

What are the distinctions and similarities between research and evaluation, particularly at a conceptual level?

  • Evaluation is aimed at generating useful, valid information for local clients to help them improve their project activities.
  • Research is aimed at generating new knowledge about phenomena to broaden our knowledge base. 

But, in the broadest sense, both research and evaluation are systematic inquiries aimed at collecting rigorous data to answer questions and they use the similar quantitative and qualitative approaches. NSF projects need to be knowledge-based and knowledge generating.

Confusion between research and evaluation may arise from the foci or types of questions that they ask because they both can examine aspects of a project's implementation, or impacts, or contextual factors that influence the implementation or impacts of a project. For example, some foci are more geared towards evaluation, and even specific to evaluation, include examining: 

  • the management of a project to help a project team improve its communication or shared vision, 
  • the quality of interventions (especially those that are administered by project leaders or researchers), or 
  • the management and implementation of a project's research and data collection activities. 

Evaluation results, while they are about a specific program, do contain information that can inform the development of other projects or related interventions. Evaluation also can serve an important role in examining the authentic inclusion and participation of relevant stakeholders... Read More