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Implementing Evidence-Based Programs: The Devil in the Details

Posted by Melissa Byers

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May 15, 2013

This is a guest blog post from Christopher Brown, Executive Vice President, National Fatherhood Initiative. 

evidenceThe federal government, many state governments, and many private funders continue to place an emphasis on funding evidence-based programs. Indeed, many funders now require the use of evidence-based programs for receipt of funds.

What is lost on many funders is how difficult it is to implement evidence-based programs with fidelity (i.e. as designed). The primary reasons are:

  • How difficult (and often impossible) it is to replicate the controlled environments in which evaluations are conducted.
  • Lack of access to the resources (e.g. funding and staffing) in which programs are rigorously evaluated.
  • The desire to implement evidence-based programs with populations or in settings that are different from the populations or settings in which programs are evaluated.

These reasons are compounded by one of the unintended consequences of the emphasis on funding only evidence-based programs—it sends the message that evidence-based programs are the only kinds of programs worthy of funding and implementation. Consequently, an organization might not be willing to use a program that could work well with the population it serves and in its setting simply because it hasn’t undergone a rigorous evaluation. 

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness among some funders of the difficulty in implementing evidence-based programs with fidelity and that there are other programs worthy of implementation that haven’t undergone rigorous evaluations. (These latter programs are typically called “promising programs”.) Some funders now allow grantees to modify the content and delivery of evidence-based programs, within certain limits, and the populations that participate in the programs that they fund. Other funders allow the organizations they fund to implement promising programs that have been shown to be effective based on less rigorous evaluations and programs with content that is informed by evidence. (These latter programs are typically called “evidence-informed programs”.)

This flexibility is wise because an organization that wishes to use an evidence-based program might lack the resources, staff, and organizational culture to implement that program with fidelity. That organization might serve a population and operate in a community that are quite different from those in which the program was evaluated, and it might be better served using a promising or evidence-informed program.

How do NFI’s programs and workshops address these difficulties? NFI provides Facilitator’s Manuals with all of our programs and workshops (and training institutes on our programs) that guide organizations on how to implement them with fidelity. When implementing with fidelity isn’t an option, the modular structure of our programs and workshops provides the flexibility to customize them based on organizations’ resources, cultures, populations served, and community-based settings.

Based on feedback from the organizations that use our programs and workshops, we know that most of them don’t implement our fatherhood programs and workshops exactly as they’re designed. These organizations value the ability to create customized programs by combining portions of our programs and workshops (and often adding our other resources) that best meet their needs and the needs of the fathers and families they serve. 

In closing, please don’t hesitate to contact our Program Support staff at programsupport@fatherhood.org or 240-912-1270. They can help you to create a customized solution for your organization that draws from our more than 100 resources, several of which are either evidence-based, evidence-informed, or promising programs.

For more information on all of our programs, workshops, and other fatherhood resources, visit www.fathersource.org

Topics: NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, Tips & Tricks

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