Innovations in Effective Compassion: Compendium of Research Papers. Presented at the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Conference on Research, Outcomes, and Evaluation. Evaluating Participant Outcomes and Program Effectiveness

07/01/2008

Reviewing recent published quantitative studies on the effectiveness of services delivered by faith-based and community-based organizations, Robert Fischer presents the status of the evidence base on the effectiveness of FBCO programs and the implications for growing and strengthening research in this area. Because of the relative youth of the FBCO field, much of the research is descriptive in nature and lacks rigorous methodological program evaluation designs, although Fischer notes that both the number and the quality of studies that are able to access program effectiveness are increasing.

To assess the state of the research in the field, Fischer casts a broad net and undertakes a preliminary quantitative synthesis that yields 18 studies in the realm of prisoner rehabilitation, welfare assistance, and substance abuse treatment. These studies all use comparative research designs in which program participants’ outcomes in FBCO-provided services are compared with a similarly situated group that received the usual services, secular programming, or who did not receive services. The findings of these studies show that while the overall effect of FBCO programs tends to produce somewhat better outcomes, they are of modest size. Fischer asserts that more research with larger sample sizes is needed to confirm these positive findings, but also to examine the effects for defined target populations.

Using a novel research approach that includes mixed methods and a comparative research design, Fred Ssewamala and Leyla Ismayilova present a study of an asset-building and educational intervention that is implemented by a faith-based organization to serve families caring for orphans and vulnerable children in rural Uganda. The intervention provides families in randomly selected schools with Children’s Development Accounts, which are matched savings accounts that can be used for future education or business development. The intervention also includes skill-building components, including educational workshops and monthly mentoring meetings. The findings from the group randomized trial suggest that the intervention improves children’s expectations about future careers and increases their motivation to make more careful choices regarding sexual risk-taking in the treatment group compared with the comparison group. The results also suggest that poor families caring for orphans and vulnerable children in Uganda can save for the children’s educational needs and that the faith-based provider was effective in implementing the program.

Diana Brazzell and Nancy LaVigne present findings from a unique process and outcome evaluation of the Faith and Character-based Institutions Initiative (FCBI) at two Florida correctional facilities. The study findings are based on an analysis of Florida Department of Corrections longitudinal inmate data; interviews with FCBI management, staff, and volunteers; focus groups with inmates participating in the FCBI programs; and firsthand program observation. The authors used a quasi-experimental evaluation design that included a matched-comparison group. The quantitative analysis showed no evidence that the FCBI program reduced recidivism, as measured by reincarceration, for either men or women. However, FCBI staff, volunteers, and inmates endorsed the program and suggested replicating it at other facilities. The authors recommend that policy makers and corrections officials clearly define the intended outcomes of the initiative, create benchmarks for measuring success, and implement systems for tracking and analyzing outcomes data.

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