Evaluating Public Sector Research and Development

Evaluating Public Sector Research and Development

Evaluating Public Sector Research and Development

Evaluating Public Sector Research and Development


The need for evaluation of public sector research and development activity is critical in today's political environment to assist policymakers with resource allocation. Methodology for evaluating public sector research and development activity is described and illustrated by the author using in-depth case studies drawn from the research programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. These cases range from newly formed federal laboratory research initiatives to well-established research programs. Managerial and evaluative guidelines are enunciated.


While there, is political history associated with every public sector R&D program, there is also a set of economic justifications for the federal government to be involved in both the funding and conduct of research and development. This justification rests on the principle that economists call market failure.

Market failure occurs when society's costs and benefits are not appropriately balanced. Market failure can arise for a number of reasons. in the case of R&D, and especially in the case of basic research, market failure is often a result of features intrinsic to the production of knowledge. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that a market economy will underinvest in the production of knowledge because private sector firms that produce knowledge through their research are unable to capture fully all of the benefits that arise from its creation.

If the R&D that is valuable to society is not being funded or conducted in the private sector, the market failure criterion may indicate the appropriateness of the R&D being funded by the public sector. However, determining that an R&D project or program is appropriate to the public sector says little about the subsequent issue of public accountability, that is, whether the project or program is performed well.

Motivation for evaluating public sector R&D

Public Accountability and Documentation of Value

The issue of public accountability for public monies is certainly not new.

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