You are here

Effectiveness, efficiency, cost-effectiveness


In the context of research, effectiveness is the extent to which the objectives of a research project have been realized. The questions are :

  • Did the research achieve what it was intending to do?
  • Did it provide an answer to the initial question ?
  • Did it provide a solution to the problem?

 When included as a dimension in a specific guide, it would relate to the effectiveness of the research, not to the effectiveness of the results.

For example a research on the use of a new vaccine, using a clinical trial, will not be evaluated through a reduction in the frequency of the disease in the population (what would be the case for an immunisation programme), but through the rate of response to the vaccine of the subjects included in the trial.

It is of course often linked to the possible impact of the research project, although part of the impact may be an observed secondary effect that was not initially set as an objective. Other dimensions that may overlap with effectiveness are valorisation: (what has been done with the results of the research project?), and performance.

Effectiveness can be assessed before and after the implementation of a research (ex ante and ex post evaluations ). The results' objectives are set beforehand, and sometimes side-effects can be anticipated, in both the case of evaluating projects or evaluating researchers.


Measuring the efficiency of a research project is answering the following questions:

  • Is the proposed methodology the best way to arrive at the desired results?
  • Could another method have given the same result within a shorter time span and with lesser expenses?


It expresses effectiveness in relation to the efforts that will, or have been, necessary to reach the desired results. Efforts can be expressed in term of time or of resources, by far the most common one being the cost of the research: "value for money":

  • Is the proposed methodology the cheapest way to arrive at the desired result?

Cost-effectiveness is thus a relative measurement, which has the advantage of being quantitative.

Analysis of a research project's cost-effectiveness can be performed through a variety of methods and techniques widely practised by development agencies (see in Lefèvre et al., 2001, pp 19-25 for instance). Generally speaking the main stakeholders (the agency or organisation which funds the research) possess each their own evaluation method, which can be adapted to evaluating research projects.

The authors of a specific guide may therefore explore the existence of such methods and their implementation tools, and incorporate them in their text, in those cases where cost-effectiveness is deemed to be one of the dimensions to be assessed.