. "1 Introduction: The Government Performance and Results Act, the Program Assessment Rating Tool, and the Environmental Protection Agency." Evaluating Research Efficiency in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008.
The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Evaluating Research Efficiency in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
oversight bodies. That, of course, is true for many other fields and practices. In the particular case of science, especially basic research, a fundamental challenge is that the course of research cannot be planned or known in advance; research entails continual feedback from observation and experimentation, which leads to new directions.
As Donald Stokes has written, “research proceeds by making choices. Although the activities by which scientific research develops new information or knowledge are exceedingly varied, they always entail a sequence of decisions or choices.” They include the choice of a problem, construction of theories or models, development of instruments or metrics, and design of experiments or observations (Stokes 1997). Stokes wrote that the defining quality of basic research is that it seeks to widen the understanding of phenomena in a scientific field. In any search for new understanding, the researcher cannot know in advance what that understanding will be and therefore cannot know how long it will take, how much it will cost, and what instrumentation will be required; so the ability to evaluate progress against benchmarks is slight. Applied research is similar to basic research in that it has the same underlying process of inquiry, but it is often distinct from basic research in emphasizing the extension of fundamental understanding to “some individual or group or societal need or use” (Stokes 1997). The intended outcomes of applied research, which include methods development and monitoring, are usually well known in advance.
The committee believes that the terms basic research, applied research, and development describe overlapping and complementary activities. The process of research might be visualized as the development and flow of knowledge within and across categorical boundaries through collaboration, feedback loops, and fortuitous insights. Agencies support many levels of research to sustain a needed flow of knowledge, respond quickly to current demands, and prepare for future challenges.
Attempts to evaluate research in terms of efficiency may founder because of the very nature of research. Thus, a negative or unexpected result of a scientific test can have value even if the time and other resources consumed by the test might be judged “inefficient” by some metrics. In addition, much of the work of researchers involves building on, integrating, and replicating previous results and this might also appear “inefficient.”
RESEARCH TERMS AT THE ENVIRONMENTALPROTECTION AGENCY
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a particular nomenclature to describe its research, including the terms core research and problem-driven research. Those terms were coined by a National Research Council committee that recommended “that EPA’s research program maintain a balance between problem-driven research, targeted at understanding and solving particular identified environmental problems and reducing the uncertainties associated