Evaluation in Real Time: The Action Research Model

Lois Felson Mock, National Institute of Justice

In recent years, many Federally-funded programs have included research as an integral part of the design and implementation process. This has created a new role for a research and evaluation partner in multi-agency problem-solving efforts, differing significantly from the traditional experimental model requiring an assessment by an independent body with no involvement in the program itself. Instead, an action research partner participates in the program throughout all stages, as follows:

o Problem Identification. The research partner collects and analyzes data as part of the interagency team to help define the specific local problem to be addressed, its origins, and particular aspects requiring attention; o Strategy Design. The research partner participates with practitioner agencies in the design of strategies to target the problem as defined by the data collection/problem identification stage; o Program Implementation and Refinement. The researcher moniutors strategy implementation by the practitioner agencies and provides immediate feedback to implementors so that program elements can be refined and improved, where not achieving desired effects; and o Program Evaluation. When refined program has been implemented, research partner conducts an impact evaluation to measure its effects on reducing the target problem.

This intensive involvement of the researcher as a partner in such problem-solving programs has brought significant benefits to the process, resulting in a number of well-publicized success stories. At the same time, however, this new role of the action researcher has raised special problems for both research and practitioner agencies involved, including data confidentiality and privacy concerns, ethical issues involving separation of research from law enforcement functions, data ownership and sharing, and IRB approval issues. This panel presentation will discuss the advantages and limitations of action research and will highlight successful exmples in several current and recent Federal initiatives, such as Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI) and Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN).

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Updated 05/20/2006