Research can be a dirty word to some, but research can help improve your program, which can improve your outcomes, which can assist you in securing additional funding. Foundations and individuals love to invest in something that works, so why not provide it to them through an evidence-based program and research driven evaluation (our next post).
Here are some types of research that can be helpful as you seek to build your program:
There is plenty of research out there that has been conducted on all types of social issues. From education, homelessness, environmental conservation, and more there is research out there that can help you use design or improve your programs. A good place to start is by searching various topics related to your program on scholar.google.com. This section of Google will provide you with peer-reviewed articles of research that have been vetted by other academics. Some websites will have you pay if you do not have a member; however, if you find an article that is of interest to you, we can work to track it down for you for free. Just send the title and author to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will download you a copy if available (limit 3).
Research that is at a national level (e.g. Census) can tell a story; however, take the time to ensure that you are explaining how a national research report is relevant to your specific program. Many national studies can be broken down by state or region as well. For example, Census data can be broken down into various tracks and help you explain local phenomena. In addition, if there is a national report out there and you are really seeking state or local data, feel free to reach out to the researcher and ask if they can pull a specific report. Often times this is possible and research are often times happy that individuals are reading their research and wanting to use it – just make sure to cite your sources.
Local research on your community can help contextualize your program and justify the need for a program to funders. Local universities may have data specific to your community that you can utilize, or they may even be willing to partner with you to create a set of data focused on the community. In addition, local institutions such as your community foundation, United Way, economic development corporation, or chamber of commerce may have access to community data that will helpful in creating an evidence-based program.
Don’t underestimate yourselves when it comes to research. If your organization has been around for a while, you likely have some data that you have been tracking that showcases the need for your program.
Bringing it Together
For example, if you are a healthcare agency that is offering free prenatal care to expecting mothers you may have gathered lots of feedback from mothers stating that they are just not sure how to properly care of a child after they are born. The data that you have collected can be used to justify the need for a parenting class. When looking into the academic literature you come across a few studies that say that the most effective length of a parenting class is six to eight weeks. You search the Census and discover that there are 250 babies born each year in your community, and you set a goal to serve 50 parents to be through two cohorts of 25 each throughout the year. Data from the local hospital shows that most babies in your community happen to be born in May and November; therefore, you decided to launch your spring cohort in mid-February and the second cohort in mid-September.
There you have it folks, an evidence-based program.