In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) hosted a Forum, Emphasizing Evidence-Based Programs for Children and Youth, to convene the nation's leading practitioners and researchers with experience using and evaluating an array of evidence-based programs. During the Forum, experts discussed challenges encountered when selecting and replicating evidence-based programs (EBPs) and also identified approaches for developing evidence-informed programs when EBPs are not available or applicable for a given population. This brief introduces key themes that emerged from the discussion. The remaining briefs in the series document the importance of implementation and provide guidance on ensuring quality program implementation identify, strategies for identifying a program's core components, and explore techniques that can be used to inform the development of new social programs.
Research evidence is important for informing decisions by agencies, communities, and funders about investments in education, health care, and social services. Investing in programs that are likely to produce significant social or health outcomes is vital. Several initiatives across the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Corporation for National and Community Service have made significant investments in identifying and encouraging the replication of evidence-based programs. In addition, there have also been substantial investments in expanding the evidence base by supporting the development of evidence-informed approaches that are innovative or have not yet been tested.
The emphasis on evidence represents only an initial step toward ensuring that programs that have demonstrated positive impacts on critical outcomes such as child maltreatment, school readiness, teen pregnancy, and delinquency are adequately funded and brought to scale. However, choosing to implement a program supported by evidence is just one piece of the puzzle; in addition to investing in what works, equal consideration needs to be paid to investing in the supportive factors that make the program work. Less attention is often paid to issues such as high quality program implementation or ensuring that the essential components of evidence-based programs are delivered to participants. Recent research indicates that programs are substantially less effective when evidence-based programs are implemented poorly, or when there is a failure to implement the essential components of these programs.
There are also steps that should be considered as new interventions are developed for populations where suitable evidence-based programs do not exist. Theory, research, and practice are all useful tools that can inform the development of new programs. However, there is less guidance about how researchers can use this information when developing new approaches.
Despite the increasing availability of information that identifies evidence-based programs, a large gap remains between what the research has shown with regard to program outcomes and the key mechanisms that can facilitate or inhibit program implementation. In order to address this gap and raise key implementation considerations that are critical to the success or failure of ASPE issued a contract to Child Trends to address challenges that stakeholders face when they choose to replicate an evidence-based program or develop an evidence-informed strategy.