Why I use many of the same methods for both research and evaluation, they are two different types of exploratory processes. Both answer "what is happening?" with a target audience or experiences, but audience research makes recommendations for developing new programs or experiences while evaluation measures how, and to what extent, outcomes are being met.
WHAT QUESTIONS CAN EVALUATION ANSWER?
Evaluation research answers tangible questions about exhibits/programs such as:
- What is happening? What is the reality of how users experience this exhibit/program?
- Is this exhibit/program meeting its goals or purpose?
- How can it be improved for future use?
These type of studies are typically linked to grant reporting. They help funders and client determine their overall impact and make adjustments as necessary to increase their effectiveness.
WHAT QUESTIONS CAN AUDIENCE RESEARCH ANSWER?
Qualitative research can help organizations understand, and therefore better serve, the needs of their core audiences. It can be used to answer questions as broad as, "How can we become a better resource for traditionally underserved groups, such as low-income or non-English speaking families?" or as concrete as "What interpretation strategies will achieve the intended outcomes and minimize negative reactions for this exhibit among Muslim visitors?"
Experiences designed with a clear understanding of users' needs and interests will ultimately have a deeper impact and extend the reach of the organization.