Primary Sources: Understanding the Continuum of Evidence-based Programming

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Cover of the report, Understanding Evidence

Understanding Evidence, Part 1: Best Available Research Evidence. A Guide to the Continuum of Evidence of Effectiveness,” (PDF, 876KB). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.

What it's about: As researchers improve our knowledge of what strategies work in health and human services, practitioners need to understand how evaluators decide whether a program or practice is effective. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed this document to help explain the concept of “Best Available Research Evidence” as it relates to violence prevention.

Why read it: While focused on violence prevention, this guide provides a step-by-step breakdown of the “continuum of effectiveness” that would be useful for any practitioner in the human services field.

Biggest take away for youth workers: The continuum of effectiveness is made up of six different criteria that contribute to a project’s rating as effective or not:

  • Effect – A project’s ability to make a positive impact, in the short term, the long term or both
  • Internal validity – Researcher’s level of certainty that the project itself was what caused the positive outcome
  • Research design – The thoroughness of the evaluation that measured the outcomes
  • Independent replication – The degree to which the project’s approach can be used with other participants and get the same results
  • Implementation guidance – The level of documentation and technical assistance available to help programs implement the project accurately
  • External and ecological validity – Whether the project can be effective in a wide range of populations and environments

In order to be rated most highly, a project must be found effective in randomized control trials that can be replicated in a variety of different settings. However, projects that may not be appropriate for randomized control trials can still improve their effectiveness rating by focusing on other criteria within the framework.   

Additional reference: The CDC is working on additional volumes of “Understanding Evidence” that help explain how field experience and environmental factors fit into evidence-based decision making.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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