In the absence of evidence-based interventions, and often even when evidence-based approaches exist, program operators frequently rely primarily on their personal experiences and good intentions without careful consideration of related research evidence. While past experience is valuable, ignoring existing evidence and developmental theory can lead to missed opportunities, unintended results, and inefficient progress. In order to advance the field of prevention, program developers need to build in the successes and mistakes of past efforts to promote positive outcomes for children and youth.
This brief describes ways of using research evidence and data to inform five critical steps involved in developing new prevention programs. This section will outline these steps briefly and identify techniques through which research and data may be utilized at each stage. Subsequent sections will describe the techniques in more detail. References for further reading appear in an appendix.
Defining the Problem. The critical initial step in developing a new program is to identify the outcome the program is being designed to prevent, such as insufficient school readiness, teen pregnancy, delinquency, or substance use. This decision process, sometimes referred to as a needs assessment, might be based on trend data that depict an increased incidence of a problem, information that a particular problem is acute in a community or population group, or evidence that a new problem has emerged or been recognized.
Identifying Relevant Risk, Protective and Promotive Factors. Few problems are completely unrelated to anything that has ever been seen or researched before. Once the target problem has been defined, then the varied risk, protective, and promotive factors (National Research Council, 2009) that affect this outcome can be identified. These factors are behaviors, knowledge, values, goals, or attitudes that precede the outcome we seek to change and influence the likelihood that it will occur. Risk factors are related to an increased likelihood of a negative outcome and protective factors reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome, while promotive factors raise the likelihood of a positive outcome. To the extent that these relationships are causal, targeting risk, protective, or promotive factors and diminishing or enhancing them appropriately is an established strategy in prevention science. We highlight meta-analysis as a particularly useful source of reliable information about pertinent risk, protective and promotive factors associated with the problem to be addressed. Focusing on key factors sets the stage for strategy selection and the development of specific interventions or combinations of interventions.
Selecting Strategies Most Likely to Influence Targeted Risk, Protective and Promotive Factors. Once key factors are identified, program developers need to determine what research has to say about the strategies available to influence those factors. We discuss several approaches to identifying strategies, including: kernels; analysis of data from longitudinal studies; and consultation with practitioners, clients, and other stakeholders, as well as meta-analysis.
Assembling Your Intervention Using a Logic Model. This process involves selecting program elements based on the previous step and assembling them into a coherent programmatic approach. A logic model is a tool that forces clarity about how the program developer envisions that key outcomes will be achieved through selected program components and how success will be demonstrated.
Testing the Elements of Your Evidence-Informed Program. Once a programmatic approach is developed, rigorous assessment is the key to making sure the intervention(s) achieve their intended results. This step will be iterative as initial evidence leads to programmatic improvements which are then further tested for improved efficacy.