Sound policy and programs are grounded in and informed by both research and evaluation While the concepts often apply the same tools and methods, they serve different purposes, fulfill different information needs, and their results are used in different ways.
Research usually produces generalizable knowledge based on inference from studying a small group -- or sample -- of a larger population. This research may address general and fundamental questions (called "basic research") that are sometimes complex -- such as "what motivates an offender to change?" or "what is the interplay between mental illness and offending?" Or, it may have a more practical purpose (also known as "applied research") and help accomplish tasks. For example: "How can our community corrections program effectively reduce the recidivism rate in half?" or "What criminal justice policies will help us reduce crime in our area and improve public safety?"
Evaluation, on the other hand, is a systematic, objective process for determining the success of a policy or program. It addresses questions about whether and to what extent the program is achieving its goals and objectives. Evaluations may, for example, ask whether something is performing as you want it to, how well works, and how much does it cost per benefit gained?
Research and evaluation can ensure that funds are expended as planned and agreed to in federal grant plans and proposals but assuring those funds are used to achieve maximum results. In your capacity as an SAA, you will be asked to allocate and approve funds for research and/or evaluation components, proposals and projects. As a study or evaluation proceeds, you will be given briefings on progress made and be expected to ensure the study stays on course. You may also be expected to describe and apply findings.
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The information presented here has been gathered for SAAs and policymakers who do not have a background in research and evaluation. As such it provides basic information to enable SAAs to engage in conversations – including knowing what questions to ask to protect against misinterpreting results - about research and evaluation by describing the differences between research and evaluation, the types of each, issues such as the Institutional Review Board process, and who should be engaged to conduct research or evaluate a program. The information included here will help you select a researcher or evaluator; read and comprehend reports; ask questions about research undertaken by others and evaluate their results and conclusions; avoid misinterpreting results; and apply findings.