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Evaluating Research Efficiency in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
As a somewhat idealized example of how EPA (or other agencies) might conceptualize and make use of these terms, the following logic model shows the sequence of research, including inputs, outputs, intermediate outcomes, and ultimate outcomes. These stages in the model are roughly aligned with various events and users as research knowledge is developed. However, it is important to recognize that this model must be flexible to respond to rapid changes in research direction based upon unanticipated issues. The shift of personnel and resources to meet a new or newly perceived environmental challenge inevitably will impact the ability to complete planned R&D programs.
In the top row of Figure 4-1, the logic flow begins with process inputs and planning inputs. Process inputs could include budget, staff (including the training needed to keep a research program functioning effectively), and research facilities. Planning inputs could include stakeholder involvement, monitoring data, and peer review. Process and planning inputs are transformed into an array of research activities that generate research outputs listed in the first ellipse, such as recommendations, reports, and publications. The combination of research and research outputs leads to intermediate outcomes.
A helpful feature of the model is that there are two stages of intermediate outcomes: research outcomes and customer outcomes. The intermediate research outcomes are depicted in the arrow and include an improved body of knowledge available for decision-making, new tools and models disseminated, and knowledge ready for application. The intermediate research outcomes in the arrow are followed by intermediate customer outcomes, in the ellipse, that describe a usable body of knowledge, such as regulations, standards, and technologies. Intermediate customer outcomes also include education and training. They may grow out of integrated science assessments or out of information developed by researchers and help to transform the research outputs into eventual ultimate outcomes. The customers who play a role in the transformation include international, national, state, and local entities and tribes; nongovernment organizations; the scientific and technical communities; business and industry; first responders; decision-makers; and the general public. The customers take their own implementation actions, which are integrated with political, economic, and social forces.
The use of the category of intermediate outcome does not require substantial change in how EPA plans and evaluates its research. The strategic plan of ORD, for example, already defines the office’s mission as to “conduct leading-edge research” and to “foster the sound use of science” (EPA 2001). Those lead naturally into two categories of intermediate outcome: intermediate outcomes from research and intermediate outcomes from users of research.
EPA’s and ORD’s strategic planning architecture fits into the logic diagram as follows: the ellipse under “Research Outputs” contains the annual performance metrics and the annual performance goals (EPA 2007b), the arrow under “Intermediate Outcomes from Research” contains sub-long-term goals, the ellipse under “Intermediate Outcomes from Users of Research” contains the