Developing a culture of evaluation and research

CFCA Paper No. 28 – November 2014

Introduction

Increasingly, organisations are expected to demonstrate, and document, the differences their services are making for children, families and communities (McCoy, Rose, & Connolly, 2013; 2014). Evaluation and research helps to respond to this demand. Evidence gained through these activities helps to identify whether programs have achieved what was intended and enables organisations to be transparent and accountable (see Box 1).

To develop effective evaluation and research functions, organisations needs a strong culture of evaluation and research; a culture in which evidence is deliberately sought in order to better implement and deliver programs. Without such a culture any efforts to build effective evaluation and research activities will be undermined (Mayne, 2010).

This paper is a guide to developing a culture of evaluation and research. It reviews what an evaluation and research culture is, and explores the actions that can be taken to develop and sustain a culture of evaluation and research.

Box 1: The key terminology

Evaluation and research

Evaluation and research are two means of getting information (or evidence) that informs decisions relating to program design and implementation and day-to-day practice. Examples of how each method has been used to inform practice in a human services organisation are provided below:

  • Assessment Tool Evaluation Project - Practitioners assessed the effectiveness of the practice tools they used when supporting people with a mental illness.
  • Filling a Service Gap Research Project - Practitioners had identified a lack of support services for young sex offenders. They undertook a literature review to identify evidence of services that meet the needs of this population (Gardner & Nunan, 2007).

The evaluators and researchers on these projects most likely used similar methods to obtain the required evidence. What differed was their purpose and the question they asked. This is the key difference between evaluation and research - the focus of the project. Evaluation uses social research methods to systematically investigate the effectiveness of a program or program component (Rossi, Lipsey, & Freeman, 2004). Research is more focused on general explorations and "finding answers" through the production of knowledge (Gardner & Nunan, 2007).

Additional information about the differences between evaluation and research can be found in the CFCA practitioner resource: Evaluation and Innovation in Family Support Services (2013c).

Evidence

Evidence (facts and information) comes from a range of sources:

  • practice knowledge and experience (including professional wisdom and values, law and policy);
  • children's and families' needs and experiences; and
  • evaluation and research (CFCA, 2013d).

Evidence-based and evidence-informed practice

Evidence-based practice involves using the best evaluation and research evidence, practitioner expertise and client values in service design and delivery. Some professionals consider evidence-informed practice a more accurate term. They argue it better reflects the practice reality in which decisions are informed or guided, rather than influenced solely, by evidence (CFCA, 2013d).