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

07/01/2008

Based on the findings of this important initial research on the FBCI, there are a number of steps that could be taken to move the field and the FBCI forward.

Examining FBCO Services

First, it will be important to include specific examination of FBCO services and programs in government and academic research on social service delivery. Evaluation and research have become increasingly important for federal programs as well as for the social service delivery network as a whole. Policy makers and practitioners want to know the results and outcomes achieved from investments in this sector. Evaluation and outcomes research presents the opportunity to determine the best ways to leverage the unique strengths of FBCOs in serving particular populations through different kinds of service delivery approaches.

Conducting Mixed-Method Research

As the burgeoning research on FBCOs evolves, there is a need to move beyond descriptive research and short-term outcomes to a mixed-method (i.e., qualitative and quantitative) approach that provides a more comprehensive understanding of program outcomes over time. Incorporating the multiple perspectives, for example, of participants, program staff, and community members on program implementation can help to elucidate the impact of the program on those involved in the work of FBCOs. This broad data collection strategy will improve understanding of the context in which FBCOs provide services. By using longitudinal studies that include comparison groups in particular, researchers can explore the sustained effects of the FBCI on client outcomes over time and begin to uncover the specific aspects that contribute to successful social service delivery among FBCOs.

Considering the Effects of Policy and Practice

As the field gains a better understanding of the role of FBCOs in service delivery, research could consider the effects of federal, state, and local government policies and practices on their operations. Research presented in this compendium raises questions about the degree to which the social service sector understands the regulatory and legal framework that has developed around the FBCI. Research could shed more light on the context in which FBCOs operate by determining grantees’ and potential grantees’ levels of understanding and areas of confusion about the regulatory framework implemented over the past 7 years. Having a better understanding of grantees’ perspectives could help policy makers determine the need for further clarification.

Standardizing Definitions of FBCOs

The research field could help address some of the definitional issues that can cause confusion in the service delivery arena. Specifically, the lack of an agreed-on definition of what constitutes a faith-based organization or a community-based organization makes it difficult to isolate how these organizations operate and succeed as compared with other organizations. A first step in addressing this issue is to obtain consensus on a standardized definition of faith-based and community-based organizations.

Specifying the Faith Component

Another focus area for future research centers on the need to specify the faith component in faith-based programs and services. Inasmuch as many faith-based organizations conceptualize faith as a primary or central component in their programs and services, future research needs to explicitly address this construct in evaluation studies.

Exploring the Community Factor

Lastly, as reflected in this compendium, a considerable amount of recent research has focused particularly on faith-based organizations. However, one study presented here suggests that smaller community-based organizations can play a prominent role in social service delivery.

Thus, one important area for future FBCI research would be to explore what could be termed the community factor or the extent to which both faith-based and community-based organizations are embedded in the broader communities they serve. Examining these broader organizational relationships as well as the individual relationships with clients will provide insight into the operational processes of faith-based and community-based organizations. This research avenue will also enhance understanding of the level of organizational acceptance within communities. Understanding this broader community context is also essential to identifying and addressing participatory barriers for faith-based and community-based organizations. Examining the complexity of these organizational relationships will enhance understanding of the FBCI overall as well as the implications for and impact on the lives of the individuals, families, and communities served.

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