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An introduction to rapid evaluation

A blog by Georgia Chisnall, PhD student at LSHTM and Student Liaison Officer for the Centre for Evaluation. 

Prior to starting my PhD at LSHTM, I worked at a research group based at University College London called the Rapid Research Evaluation and Appraisal Lab (RREAL). RREAL’s purpose is to improve the quality and impact of rapid research used to evaluate clinical/health models and interventions in time-sensitive contexts. As part of this, RREAL focuses on the innovate development and application of rapid methodologies. During this time, I was fortunate to work on publications commenting on the application and development of rapid methodologies and have since been invited to participate in an e-Delphi study for the development of standards in rapid evaluation and appraisal methods.

What is rapid evaluation? 

Let me start by distinguishing between “rushed” and “rapid” research (Fitch et al., 2000; Manderson & Aaby, 1992; Vindrola-Padros, 2021). Rapid research is not intended as a tool to cut corners which may violate the quality or ethical standards of research, as a solution to lack of resources, or to be haphazardly applied as suits without engaging with new methodologies or techniques in a meaningful and purposeful manor (Vindrola-Padros, 2021; Vindrola-Padros and Johnson, 2020). To quote Robert Chambers, rapid approaches could be: 

    “…to over-sold, too rapidly adopted, badly done, and then discredited, to suffer an underserved, premature burial as has occurred with other innovative research practices”     (Chambers, 1991, p351).

For those new to rapid methods, there is no set duration at which the line is drawn between short-form (rapid) and long-form research. As with many things, this would be a widely unhelpful and reductive definition. For instance, two studies might both have taken a duration of 6 months. In study one, the study was not under any obvious time-pressures and no deviations were required from typical long-form approaches to complete the study within the 6-month period. Comparatively, in study two, producing the study within the 6-month period was a highly intensive process which required selecting dynamic and iterative rapid research methodology to facilitate timely delivery. 

Hence, rapid research is defined not by duration, but by a distinct set of methodological principles which seek to enable timeliness while maintaining scientific rigor. At times the lines between long-form and rapid research can become blurred, when seemingly long-term projects include sequences of short periods of data collection and analysis, forming ‘cycles’ within the research duration; this is particularly true of rapid evaluations (McNall et al., 2004; Vindrola-Padros et al., 2021). Methodological adaptions for rapid research are diverse, but there are a couple which tend to be core features across studies irrespective of discipline. To quote Beebe’s definition of rapid qualitative research: 

    ‘…intensive, team-based qualitative enquiry with (a) a focus on the insider’s or emic perspective, (b) using multiple sources and triangulation, and (c) using iterative data analysis and additional data collection to quickly develop a preliminary understanding of a situation’ (2014, p3). 

Rapid evaluation was born as an off-shoot to mainstream rapid methodologies in response to anthropologists partnering with multilateral and local government agencies (McNall and Foster-Fishman, 2007). Rapid evaluations are different from other rapid qualitative approaches because they are specifically designed to assess the impact or document the implementation of specific interventions, services, or programmes. Common approaches include rapid evaluation methods (REM), rapid feedback evaluation (RFE), and rapid cycle evaluation (RCE) (Vindrola-Padros et al., 2020; Chisnall et al., 2023). These approaches are compatible with quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods approaches. 

Rapid evaluation offers a tremendous opportunity to conduct timely and impactful research in time-sensitive settings. For anyone interested in learning more about the opportunities and challenges of rapid evaluation, I would encourage you to either attend RREAL’s course titled ‘Introduction to Rapid Evaluation’ or to read some of the publications listed below. I would be interested to hear of any rapid evaluations taking place at LSHTM and am happy to answer any questions so do get in touch - (georgia.chisnall@lshtm.ac.uk).

Recommended reading 

References (not listed above)

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