Forming Relationships with Community Leaders
Posted on February 14, 2006
Kenneth Dodge (bio) discusses his experiences working with communities and organizations.
Q: How do you get a program or treatment from effectiveness research to adoption as public policy?
A: The study of how that is achieved is the sort of research we do. From looking at successes and failures, it seems to me that researchers need to be in collaboration with agencies and develop relationships with community stakeholders. One way they can do this is by sitting on committees and boards, participating with them and responding to their needs.
Q: Can you explain why forming relationships with community leaders is so important?
A: This is extremely important for several reasons. It gives you a better idea of what the institutional, contextual and political issues that may affect the adoption of programs are, and it allows you, the researcher, to see where there might be an opportunity to do a study or to work together. Also, community leaders may come to you when they see an opportunity.
Here's an example. I had an interest in researching child abuse interventions. I had been doing descriptive research and intervention pilots, including an intervention in Durham, NC. As part of this, I had been sitting in on committees. North Carolina began instituting an innovative system of responding to child abuse allegations, implementing first in 10 then expanding to 33 counties (out of 100 counties in North Carolina). By virtue of the relationships I have formed and my experience of being on the committees, they have approached us to evaluate this system. Now I have the opportunity to do a large-scale evaluation where the unit is the county in a matched-control design. I don't think this opportunity would have developed if I hadn't been doing work in the area and developing relationships.
Q: It seems that this type of networking would be particularly difficult for junior researchers to engage in. How can junior researchers develop such relationships?
A: Junior researchers can embed themselves in a community context by volunteering to sit on committees and by establishing relationships with agencies while simultaneously conducting a traditional, university-based line of research. Then the opportunity may come about in a community context to do an effectiveness study, or interesting effectiveness studies may appear.
Q: Isn't this type of research difficult to do in an academic setting?
A: Yes and no; it is true that it has not traditionally been done. However, the position of assistant professor gives time to go out into the community, and you get credibility from being a university professor. You can go out there as a player, not to take over, but as a colleague.
Based on interview with researcher in August 2003.
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