What is the difference between academic research and evaluation?

Academic research is conducted to advance knowledge in a particular area, while evaluation is conducted to assess the effectiveness of a program or intervention. Evaluation involves collecting data and making judgments about the value of something, while research is more focused on generating new knowledge.

To understand the concept of Evaluation, it is essential to know its difference with Research, as most often these two concepts are confused between each other. One of the most often-asked questions – is research and evaluation the same or different? Unfortunately, the answer is not clear here. There has been alternative theorisation among experts in establishing the distinction between research and evaluation.

What is the difference between academic research and evaluation?
There is a big difference between academic research and evaluation.

There are various schools of thought or typologies that exist that view research and evaluation from different lenses. The four different typologies are as follows:

Research and evaluation are dichotomous #

This school considers research and evaluation as two completely separate stream of producing knowledge. Evaluation is viewed as more interested in specific, applied knowledge, and more controlled by those funding or commissioning the evaluation. Research on the other hand, is considered as interested in producing generalisable knowledge which are theoretical and controlled by the researchers.

Purpose is testing theory and producing generalizable findings.Purpose is to determine the effectiveness of a specific program or model.
Questions originate with scholars in a discipline.Questions originate with key stakeholders and primary intended users of evaluation findings.
Quality and importance judged by peer review in a discipline.Quality and importance judged by those who will use the findings to take action and make decisions
Ultimate test of value is contribution to knowledge.Ultimate test of value is usefulness to improve effectiveness.
Research vs Evaluation
Research or Monitoring and Evaluation

Evaluation and research as mutually independent #

A quite different way of thinking about research and evaluation sees them as two independent variables that are not mutually exclusive.

Evaluation and research as mutually independent

Evaluation as a sub-section of research #

This school of thought is premised on the notion that – Doing research does not necessarily require doing evaluation.  However, doing evaluation always requires doing research.

Research as a sub-section of Evaluation #

This school of thought on the distinction between research and evaluation is that research is only a sub-section of evaluation. The school holds the view that the research part of evaluation involves only collecting and analyzing empirical data. It is also called as action-research.

Which school “research or evaluation” should we use? #

Each of these framing can be useful for particular purposes.

But remember that there isn’t a single style of framing. The best way to choose your frame is by identifying the result you want to achieve and who you are presenting to.