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Federally sponsored multidisciplinary research centers: Learning, evaluation, and vicious circles


  • Youtie, Jan
  • Corley, Elizabeth A.


Despite the increasing investment in multi-year federally funded science and technology centers in universities, there are few studies of how these centers engage in learning and change based on information submitted from various agents in the oversight and evaluation process. One challenge is how to manage and respond to this evaluative information, especially when it is conflicting. Although the center can learn and adapt in response to this information, it can also become subject to a vicious circle of continuous restructuring and production of documentation to address various and potentially inconsistent recommendations. In this paper we illustrate the effects of such a dynamic based on our experiences as external evaluators of the $25 million NSF-funded Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. The case study presents an analysis of annual reports and strategic planning documents along with other sources of evidence to illustrate the evolution of center organizational approaches in response to evaluations by external review panels, center evaluators, program managers, and other external stakeholders. We conclude with suggestions for how evaluators may help centers ease the cost of learning and reduce the likelihood of a vicious circle.

Suggested Citation

  • Youtie, Jan & Corley, Elizabeth A., 2011. "Federally sponsored multidisciplinary research centers: Learning, evaluation, and vicious circles," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 13-20, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:epplan:v:34:y:2011:i:1:p:13-20

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Corley, Elizabeth A. & Boardman, P. Craig & Bozeman, Barry, 2006. "Design and the management of multi-institutional research collaborations: Theoretical implications from two case studies," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(7), pages 975-993, September.
    2. Thomas Finholt, 2003. "Collaboratories as a new form of scientific organization," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(1), pages 5-25.
    3. Ash Amin & Patrick Cohendet, 2000. "Organisational Learning and Governance Through Embedded Practices," Journal of Management & Governance, Springer;Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale (AIDEA), vol. 4(1), pages 93-116, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sobelson, Robyn K. & Young, Andrea C., 2013. "Evaluation of a federally funded workforce development program: The Centers for Public Health Preparedness," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 50-57.

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