As a starting point, it is helpful to understand the benefits of research and evaluation. Many of the reasons for engaging in research and evaluation are directly related to your responsibilities:
Research provides a base for action. Effective policy and programs are based on theory and experience that are informed by what has been learned about the nature and scope of a particular issue, the specific community or type of community where a policy or program will be implemented or the population to be addressed. Research, what has been learned about an issue from formulating a hypothesis that suggests a particular result and then systematically testing whether or not that hypothesis is correct, is the foundation for an effective program or policy. Research provides information to guide the development of a program: the needs of particular groups of people (age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational level, etc.); the needs of people in different settings (geographic areas, different living conditions); the effects of different life courses (drug involved, history of mental illness, prior involvement in justice system). Such information is very useful when deciding whom to work with, what to offer, how long services should be available, etc. For those who work with or in law enforcement, data driven policing – which bases where and when to deploy officers and other resources on an analyses of calls for service, offense patterns and information about arrestees – may be recognized as a form of research.
Evaluation measures performance. Evaluation involves the systematic assessment of the extent to which programs have been implemented as planned. It further provides tangible evidence that resources put into programs are achieving intended results. More importantly, it helps direct the allocation of scarce resources to programs that work. Evaluation is also useful in determining what doesn't work in a program and providing information to improve current efforts. To do so evaluators ask questions, gather information and analyze it.
Evaluation demonstrates program benefits to stakeholders. If a program works, its success should be shared with appropriate parties – funders, elected officials, practitioners and the community at large. In addition, evaluation findings can be used by a variety of audiences who are in a position to support continuation of the program being evaluated. Results can be used to solicit funds from other funding sources, to support a request for additional funds to expand the program, or to justify offering the same program in another location.
Research and evaluation can help improve a program's effectiveness. Another benefit of evaluating a program is that the findings will help improve it. For instance, research on one part of the program – such as who seeks a service and who doesn’t – allows program administrators to be more strategic about who is targeted and why. And those responsible for the program will be able to say with confidence that changes or improvements they make are directly responsive to research or evaluation findings.
Evaluation and research create an opportunity to share information about what works and what has been learned with similar agencies. Information that leads to a better understanding of a problem or findings that show a program has been effective – or ineffective – will be of interest to other agencies with the same mission or charge or those contemplating how to approach the same or a similar problem. Results show where the program design worked – and where it didn’t – and are therefore of great interest to other agencies of a similar size and in similar environments. Evaluations also reveal lessons learned by program implementers that others can use as a guide when replicating or implementing a program model.