Evaluation and Research in Social Policy

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Evaluation has become part of the fabric of policy-related research in Australia. Program evaluation is now an in-built feature of all Commonwealth programs and is integral to the Financial Management Improvement Program (FMIP) introduced in 1987. This growth in the importance and significance of evaluation reflects the increased interest in ensuring that public programs are appropriate, efficient and effective. This paper explores how the ‘new age’ of evaluation might influence the development of policy and, more particularly, how it has affected the nature of the work of the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC). Following a discussion of the definitions of evaluation, of other policy-related research, and of evaluative research, changes in the program of research undertaken in the SPRC over the last five years are described and the question of how the emphasis on evaluations has affected the broader profile of research and funding of the body of research undertaken at the Centre is considered. Following this, a number of examples of SPRC research in the fields of social security and community support which illustrate the nature of its contribution to the evaluation of government social programs are reviewed. Drawing on this evidence, it is argued that despite the emphasis placed on evaluation by the Department of Finance and other bodies, the approach is likely to remain only a limited part of the policy process. Other forms of research will undoubtedly continue to complement the contribution made by evaluative research, but these activities, too, are also unlikely to dominate the formulation and implementation of policy.
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Saunders, Peter
Fine, Michael
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