Book review: Evaluating Research Centers

Evaluating Research Centers and Institutes for Success: A Manual and Guide with Case Studies
William R. Tash
WT & Associates, 2006. 229 pages

There are more than 14,000 research centers in the US.
University research centers, non-profit institutes, government and corporate laboratories, and multi-unit research organizations perform over half of all applied research, says William R. Tash. He offers “Evaluating Research Centers and Institutes for Success” as “a guidebook for research unit directors, vice presidents for research, sponsored projects managers, funding officers, government officials, policy analysts, research administrators, graduate and professional educators.”

The book outlines how to evaluate center-sponsored science, including medical, educational, economic, engineering, agricultural, and interdisciplinary research.

Tash, also author of 2008’s Strategic Planning for Success and 2007’s Planning, Funding, and Evaluating Nanotechnology Research Centers and Initiatives, presents a systematic way for research directors, laboratory operators, and senior managers to apply a comprehensive and strategic evaluation model to their research units, and to educate stakeholders about the importance of evaluation from a number of perspectives and measures.

Tash says that it’s essential to determine the focus of the evaluation. A center might be assessed on its ability to attain short-term and long-range goals, time spent on preparing proposals, award ratios, the ability to adapt to changes in science, contributions to regional and national needs, balance between direct or latent outputs, and efficiency of center organization in achieving multidisciplinary outcomes.

The manual includes explanations, questionnaires, templates, and forms that a center director can use to measure things like ratios of expenditures to income, efficiencies of operation, attaining research objectives, technological impacts, social and economic change, client satisfaction, staff-to-faculty ratios, extent of applied-to-basic research, and proportion of time devoted to educational activities and other mandated activities.

Illustrative case studies include Wayne State University’s review of its Automotive Research Center and a recent Temple University self-evaluation intended to decrease the size of some centers.

Tash discusses politics as well: Issues that have pitted a University Provost against a center director, how an unusually large grant turned one center upside-down and led to dismissals, and how research faculty do or don’t align their own research priorities with those of the center.

Above all, Tash says, the audience of the evaluation report should know why your center is unique and essential to the growth of your research university, state, and region.

My only quibble with this rich resource is the surprising lack of attention given to proofreading, copy editing, and consistency of page formatting.

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