Are Evidence-Based Practices What We Need?
I am frequently asked questions about what interventions “work” for gang violence reduction. Or I am asked to name the evidence-based practices for fields such as violence prevention.
As a researcher, I am gratified that there is movement around evidence-based practices, and that the community has starting asking these questions and taking on the responsibility of implementing sanctioned, effective programming. However, in practice, I have found that some of the most exciting and promising programming comes from local communities. These programs are frequently a response to local issues that are not easily addressed by “off-the-shelf” solutions. Often, these unique programs arise because many communities cannot afford evidence-based practices, or because those models lack resonance with their community’s issues.
The federal Office of Justice Programs will sanction violence prevention programs as “effective” if they have strong evidence to indicate their intended outcomes when implemented with fidelity. Programs will be deemed “promising” if they provide some evidence (www.crimesolutions.gov).
For community-based programs, evaluation efforts may not be able to meet these standards due to fiscal constraints and/or lack of infrastructure. Organizations who serve targeted, special populations such as youth most likely to be involved in gun violence are often not amenable to controlled trials for ethical reasons. For a practitioner who believes that they are providing lifesaving services, contemplating an experimental intervention brings up many complicated questions.
I believe we need to expand the conversation around evidence-based practice to support or at least allow for communities to respond to their own unique problems and partner with researchers to determine local impacts. Evidence is important, but so is innovation and respecting and honoring the local, on-the-ground wisdom and experience present in every community. Finding a balance is critical.
The violence prevention field must embrace multiple ways of knowing. It must also make room for evidence based on non-traditional methods and strategies that are making positive outcomes in violent communities. A violence prevention field that acknowledges interventions crafted as a direct response to a community’s imminent needs around safety, with the participants’ own voices included in all planning processes, will be one that values cultural and gender responsiveness together with innovation. Our field can then move ahead with interventions and strategies that push the envelope and question the status quo of “what works” to maybe understand, “what works better,” “what works when,” “what works for whom,” and “why might this work?”
Well said! And thanks for saying it. Innovation and new practices to research and test do not occur in environments that only tolerate evidence based practices. /Suzanne MacKinnon