By: Dr. Cheri Shapiro, Director
I recently was asked a great question about a new program started by an organization: “What does it take to become ‘evidence-based’?”
Starting a program for children, youth, families, or parents begins with a need and a good idea. The next steps include a number of important decisions:
- Who the program is for? (Well-defined target population.)
- What the program intends to accomplish? (Goals or outcomes.)
- What does the program contain? (Content.)
- How will the program will be delivered?
- Who will deliver the program?
- How will the program be paid for?
These questions are just a start!
Gathering basic information about who receives the program and their thoughts and feelings about the newly developing program is critical, as well as thoughts and feelings of providers and other stakeholders in the program under development, such as community members, referral sources and others. The next step is to gather information on important things the program is designed to change — both before and after program delivery. This type of single group, pre-post test design helps to measure if just getting the program makes a difference.
It is also important to write down all of the details of the program and delivery, including assessment, in a program manual. Once a program manual is developed, it can then be used to test the program in more scientifically rigorous ways, including quasi-experiments or, the current “gold standard” of a randomized study under ideal conditions (efficacy). Then we STILL have to test the program in the real world (effectiveness).
This process sounds linear, but it may not be linear at all. As the program is developed and tested and more information is gathered, it is common to circle back to earlier decisions about who the program is for, what the program can do, and how the program can or should be measured and/or delivered.
If you are up for a deep dive into this process, check out the Standards of Evidence for Efficacy, Effectiveness, and Scale-up Research in Prevention Science: Next Generation, by a group of scientists with the Society of Prevention Research.