What is the difference between research and evaluation?

We often hear research and evaluation talked about in very similar circles – they both use methods to gather data and work to answer a question. However, they are different disciplines and have different focuses and practices and it is important to take some time to distinguish between the two.

Some of the high-level differences between research and evaluation include:

Research Evaluation
  • Produces generalizable knowledge
  • Scientific inquiry based on intellectual curiosity
  • Advances broad knowledge and theory
  • Controlled setting
  • Judges merit or worth
  • Policy and program interests of stakeholders paramount
  • Provides information for decision-making on specific program
  • Conducted within settings of changing actors, priorities, resources and timelines(1)

Here is a great visual that shows where research and evaluation diverge and where they come together and share steps in their processes. There is a lot of differences when we look at the beginning and end of research or evaluation projects but the disciplines come together around methods and analysis. Researchers and evaluators definitely speak the same language when it comes to methods!



Research and evaluation can also both engage in community-based or participatory ways of working. We have seen many research projects which have included peer researchers and are starting to see work in engaging peer evaluators to support participatory evaluation projects.

As new approaches to both research and evaluation emerge — for instance community-based research or program or implementation science — the lines between the disciplines become less sharp. And there is certainly a great deal of debate on the topic. If you are interested in delving more deeply into this debate please check out Better Evaluation’s: Ways of framing the difference between research and evaluation.


(1) From: https://web.stanford.edu/group/design_education/wikiupload/2/27/Helen_Evaluation.pdf

(2) From: http://aea365.org/blog/john-lavelle-on-describing-evaluation/


Questions? Feedback? Get in touch!WEB-Janice-Duddy
Janice Duddy, Manager of Evaluation
[email protected]