Q: I think I need research, evaluation, or methodology support. Can MERC help? A: We can try! Just reach out to us and ask, whatever it is. Besides helping with grant proposals and contracts for research, evaluation, or methodology work (described more below), here are some a couple of types of assistance we routinely offer:
1. Consultation: We are always happy to discuss potential new work. As a service center, we rely on it. These meetings are free, as an investment in future work.
2. Ad hoc work: If you want data collection instruments designed or reviewed, data entered or transcribed, a lesson for a class, or you have some data laying around that you want analyzed or a report created, we may be able to help. We can discuss it and give you an estimate for the time we think it would take. If you are at UNL, all we need is a cost object and how much we can spend.
Q: I am working on a grant proposal; can MERC serve as my external evaluator? A: Yes, we can, because we are not internal to your project team. Our goal is to assess how well you are meeting your goals, and being “external” to your project gives us a different perspective, even though we are at UNL.
Q: I don’t have a full draft of my grant proposal yet. Is it too early to talk to MERC? A: No! In the early stages of preparing a proposal, we can discuss evaluation of goals, and education and outreach activities to meet those goals. We can do this in a meeting, or via email/tracked comments – your choice. We can also help with logic models, if needed. For some projects, the evaluation and research activities are intertwined, and meeting early can help.
Q: Can MERC help me design education and outreach activities? A: To a certain extent. We don’t know all the possible opportunities available, especially ones specific to your field. But we can suggest activities we are familiar with, and discuss ways to evaluate any ideas you have.
Q: My grant proposal is almost done. Is it too late to talk to MERC? A: No! At any stage, we can review a proposal and make suggestions. However, the closer you get to the application deadline, the less feedback we can give, and the materials we prepare for you may be less specific to your project. And we have heard from grant application reviewers that more targeted and project specific is better, overall.
Q: So how do I include MERC in my budget? A: We are typically written in as a line item under other direct costs, and we provide a budget, justification, and letter of commitment. If you are at UNL, our materials get packaged with yours through ORED. But if you are external to UNL, we would need to work with ORED to get the materials approved in advance.
Q: Service Center? What is that? A: You may be familiar with PAFs, or how time is allocated by FTE (0.1 = 10% of your time). The staff and faculty in the Service Center have hourly rates, instead. We bill for the work we do, instead of a portion of our time. There are pros and cons to both methods, but the rates allow the Service Center greater flexibility to meet client needs.
Q: What if the grant was already funded? Or I have other monies? A: Great! We can contract to do work within our areas of expertise. In the past, this has included overall project evaluation, conducting needs assessments, designing data collection instruments, designing/leading trainings, analyzing data for reporting, and/or creating fact sheets for specific audiences. If you are at UNL, all we need is an approval of our proposed budget/scope of work and a cost object. But if you are external to UNL, we would need to work with ORED to get the budget okayed and contracts set up.
Q: Why do I need evaluation? A: The number one reason is to provide documentation of the work done to achieve the goals of the project. This is not just tracking the activities you do (although we can help with that), it is getting feedback from those involved in the project activities to assess attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge changes. Besides providing feedback about the end results, it can also provide valuable information mid-project to help improve the project activities. For example, programs that used their report from a mid-point focus group during a summer research program had increased satisfaction and enthusiasm with the program, and more positive outcomes overall. In the final focus groups, students volunteered the improvements that happened after their PI received the mid-point report. This website has more information on why to do evaluation, and some different types of evaluation.
Q: So no one on your team specializes in my specific area of study? A: Probably not. Most of our team has a social science or education background and are trained to collect data from people for research and evaluation. Each of us has our own expertise, interests, and prior project experience, but our main expertise is in evaluation design, data collection, data analyses, and reporting results. We rely on the client for the expertise with their specific topic.
Q: I want to do a mail or telephone survey. Can you do it? A: Alas, no. For mail or telephone surveys, we will need to partner with the Bureau of Sociological Research (BOSR). If the survey is part of a larger project, we can help facilitate the quote and work with their team to get it done and add the results into the overall project. BOSR is great to work with.
Q: I think I will need your services in a few months, but that may change. What should I do? A: Let us know. We can “hold” time for the work. Knowing early is always better, so we can shift around what we can to try and meet everyone’s needs. Otherwise, there may be a delay, or worst-case scenario – we might not be able to help. And we don’t want that.
Q: I’m ready to get started. Now what? A: Contact us! Dr. Jenn Rutt (the Associate Director of MERC) can advise you to the various options available within MERC. She can be reached at jenn.rutt@unl.edu. We look forward to hearing from you!
Q: Wasn’t MERC part of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium (SBSRC)? A: Good memory! Yes. When SBSRC was started in 2015, MERC (previously known as Surveys Statistics and Psychometrics, or SSP) was brought under the umbrella of SBSRC. The Nebraska Research Initiative funded SBSRC for five years, but as decisions were being made about the future of the unit, our energies were redistributed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was made to retire or rehome any active SBSRC projects, and SBSRC officially closed end June 2022.