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How to Conduct Focus Groups: Tools and Skills, Monday, March 12, 2018

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How to Conduct Focus Groups: Tools and Skills
Amanda Purington, director of evaluation, ACT for Youth

Monday, March 12, 2018
12:00-2:00 PM
102 Mann Library



Researchers are increasingly conducting studies in community settings and applying for grants that require documentation of real-world impact. Indeed, some funders now require components such as dissemination plans, stakeholder engagement, or community participation. To meet these new demands, researchers may wish to collaborate with non-academic groups and craft research questions and results that inform practice or policy. This year the BCTR continues our series of interactive workshops sharing the center’s extensive experience conducting research in real-world settings and translating empirical findings into practice. Each workshop addresses a key challenge that researchers face in doing translational research and provides practical tools for overcoming obstacles to conducting effective translational research. The workshops are open to all Cornell faculty, staff, and graduate students.

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ACT for Youth: Measuring Positive Youth Development

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A myriad of evidence-based programs exist to help young people develop positive life skills and avoid risk behaviors. Evaluations of program success are frequently focused on whether programs directly reduce negative outcomes for youth. An alternative approach can be to measure Positive Youth Development (PYD) outcomes resulting from a particular program. Program evaluation with the PYD approach places the focus on positive, healthy outcomes for youth, rather than a focus on reduction of negative outcomes.

In 2015, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJ DOH) asked the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence to provide program evaluation of Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®). TOP® is an evidence-based program that offers young people community-based, service-learning opportunities in order to build on their strengths and reduce risk behaviors. The NJ DOH facilitates the implementation of TOP® and has traditionally measured its success using Wyman’s own pre- and post-surveys. While these surveys provide useful data, the NJ DOH wanted to augment the evaluation with a PYD approach. The ACT for Youth team, including Amanda Purington, Christine Heib, and Dora Welker, was contracted to identify specific PYD measures that could be used in conjunction with the existing evaluation approach, and to develop a survey tool for measuring progress in PYD outcomes.

act pyd

Figure 1. Relationship between subscales, Five Cs, and PYD; from Geldhof et al., 2013.

To develop the new surveys, ACT for Youth used the Positive Youth Development Inventory – Very Short Form.These measures are based on the Lerner and Lerner “Five Cs” model of PYD, which encompasses the “Cs” of youth development: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring, and Character. Each of these “Cs” are measured using subscales that assess different aspects of youths’ lives. The PYD surveys created by ACT for Youth incorporate these subscales to get a more comprehensive picture of youths’ lives and the impacts of the TOP® program.

While funding for the evaluation came from the NJ DOH, implementation was done through the Central New Jersey Family Health Consortium, Inc. (CJFHC). Youth completed the PYD pre- and post-surveys at five separate programming locations where TOP® was implemented during the 2015-2016 school year. Additional information such as demographics, living situation, year in school, and school attendance were also collected, enabling ACT for Youth to conduct a more comprehensive analysis of program effects.

After looking at results of the PYD pre-surveys, ACT for Youth found high baseline scores for all five of the Cs. This was a very positive finding -- however, it did create a challenge for evaluation, since with such high initial scores there was not much room for further improvement. While the evaluation did not detect much improvement, and saw some decreases, overall these high scores were largely maintained at post-survey.

To better understand differences among the results, the ACT for Youth team also analyzed pre- to post-survey differences in relation to a variety of grouping variables, such as attendance and “baseline risk,” which was measured on the Wyman pre-survey. Examples of risk factors in this survey include: “failed a course,” “been suspended,” “been pregnant/caused a pregnancy,” and more. ACT for Youth grouped and coded these risk factors into “academic baseline risk” and “sexual health baseline risk” and used these baseline risk levels to further assess TOP® program efficacy, taking into consideration the diverse backgrounds of youth participants and their very different starting points at the beginning of TOP® programming. The goal of this analysis was to see if TOP® is more effective among certain distinct populations. Interestingly, some of the findings from this analysis pyd chart 1suggest that TOP® implementation may have some of its most positive effects on the most vulnerable youth.

Creating and using the PYD surpyd chart 2veys allowed the evaluation team to assess positive youth development, alongside traditionally measured negative risk factors, for a more comprehensive and optimistic evaluation of TOP® in New Jersey. While it was unexpected that a number of items moved in the undesired direction from pre- to post-survey, several reasons might explain this. First, as mentioned, with highly positive baseline scores it is difficult to achieve significantly higher results at post. Additionally, it is possible that implementation of the TOP® program mitigates what would otherwise be even greater declines in certain areas. In the future, this hypothesis could be explored by having youth not involved in TOP® programming also complete pre- and post-surveys as a way of assessing a control group.

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Researchers evaluate a program for boys to avert sexual violence

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By Susan Kelley for the Cornell Chronicle

Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, and Janis Whitlock

Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, and Janis Whitlock

Cornell is helping to usher in new, more effective ways to prevent sexual violence.

A team from the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) is evaluating a curriculum for boys aged 12-14 aimed at preventing sexual violence. The program is a shift from previous approaches, which generally focused on helping people avoid becoming victims of sexual assault.

Instead, this approach aims to keep boys and young men from committing sexual violence in the first place.

“If you want to stop perpetration, this may be the best tack to take,” said Mary Maley, extension associate for research synthesis and translation. “This is an innovative approach, because we’re looking at reducing risk for perpetration, not reducing risk for becoming a victim.”

BCTR is working in partnership with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), which recently was awarded a $1 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New York state is one of five awardees nationwide to receive a CDC grant to evaluate various programs to prevent sexual assault.

BCTR is the research arm of the NYSDOH project. The team will spend this first year refining the methodology, developing research tools and protocols, and recruiting program sites and participants. Data collection will begin in the fall of 2017.

The BCTR team will be working with a curriculum, the Council for Boys and Young Men, developed by the One Circle Foundation, which provides training and curricula that promote resiliency and healthy relationships. The basic idea is that male facilitators will set up and lead “councils” which consist of eight to 10 boys in seven to nine urban upstate sites.

Much of the content focuses on prosocial behavior. Councils will meet a few hours a week for several months, focusing on activities, dialogue and self-expression that challenge myths about what it means to be a “real man.” They’ll learn behavior that prevents violence, such as how to step in when they see bullying. They’ll also work on activities that develop empathic behavior, communication and relationship skills, and the ability to respect difference. Another seven to nine sites will serve as study controls to enable the researchers to test the efficacy of the curriculum.

“The idea is that they’re building strong relationships with each other and with a positive adult role model, so they’re actually able to model what positive relationships can be,” said Janis Whitlock, co-principal investigator and lead of the research team.

The middle school years are a prime time to help boys develop these skills, she said. This is the age at which they start to tune in to broader ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman.

Many of the risk factors for sexual violence, such as hypermasculinity and endorsement of aggression, are attitudinal and start to develop at this age through many moments of interactions with other boys and men, Whitlock said.

“This is a perfect time to be giving them a variety of models to choose from, because boys in particular face fairly narrow models of what it means to be a man,” she said.

Evaluation of this type of program comes at an opportune time, Whitlock said, as the definition of sexual assault has greatly expanded in recent years. Historically, sexual violence has meant penetration only. Now it includes unwanted touch, comments, penetration in various ways, and negative online behavior.

That’s important, because middle school boys have the potential to be involved in minor forms of sexual violence, such as unwanted touch, sexting and sharing of others’ images online, Whitlock said.

In this environment, the CDC’s vision was to evaluate the most innovative programs available, Whitlock said. “They wanted to push the envelope so we can get some traction on this issue, because it’s not getting better.”

The project continues a long and fruitful partnership between NYSDOH and BCTR, according to co-investigator Jane Powers. Together the two entities have collaborated over two decades to strengthen community support for youth using research-based programs and practices, she said.

“Results of this research will potentially improve the health and wellbeing of youth in New York state and beyond,” Powers said.

 

Researchers evaluate a program for boys to avert sexual violence - Cornell Chronicle

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Workshop: How to Conduct Focus Groups, Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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How to Conduct Focus Groups
Jane Powers and Mandy Purington, ACT for Youth

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
12:00-2:00 PM
166 MVR Hall



Focus groups are a unique, and sometimes challenging, way to collect qualitative data. During a focus group, participants are asked about their perceptions, opinions, and attitudes in an interactive group setting. This workshop will provide an overview of planning and conducting focus groups, including:

  • defining a focus group
  • designing focus group questions
  • recruiting and preparing for participants
  • facilitation tips and
  • analyzing the data.

Jane Powers, Director, ACT for Youth
Amanda Purington, Amanda Purington, Director of Evaluation & Research, ACT for Youth

To Register:

Please contact Patty Thayer at pmt6@cornell.edu
Lunch will be served.
This workshop is open to all Cornell faculty, staff, and grad students.

 

event-htdrrws-event-image2Part of an interactive workshop series

Researchers are increasingly conducting studies in community settings and applying for grants that require documentation of real-world impact. Indeed, some funders now require components such as dissemination plans, stakeholder engagement, or community participation. To meet these new demands, researchers may wish to collaborate with non-academic groups and craft research questions and results that inform practice or policy. This series of interactive workshops shares the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s extensive experience conducting research in real-world settings and translating empirical findings into practice. Each workshop addresses a key challenge that researchers face in doing translational research and provides practical tools for overcoming obstacles to conducting effective translational research.

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New Tool Helps Program Staff Better Serve Young Parents

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Purington, Welker, Sebuharara, and Heib

Purington, Welker, Sebuharara, and Heib

The ACT for Youth Center of Excellence has developed an Asset/Risk Assessment Tool for use with families headed by adolescents or young adults. The tool was created for programs working within Pathways to Success, a New York State Department of Health initiative that seeks to establish an infrastructure of support for young families in the Bronx, Buffalo, and Rochester.

One of the purposes of the tool is to build relationships between expectant and parenting students and the Pathways to Success staff so that the young people will use the staff as a conduit to services in the community students may not be aware of or have easy access to. Pathways to Success staff are also working to strengthen relationships with community partners serving this population to help streamline services and reduce barriers to access in the long term.

The tool was developed by Amanda Purington and Dora Welker; Divine Sebuharara and Christine Heib piloted the assessment with expectant and parenting young people and Pathways organizations.
The 3-phased tool contains:

  1. an intake form which collects basic personal information;
  2. an extensive assessment of the expectant or parenting student’s current resources and supports and their priority needs;
  3. an opportunity for staff to create a tailored list of referrals to meet the young parent’s priority needs.

Phase 3 serves as a check-in with the young parent, a month or two after the first two phases, to see if referrals were helpful and determine if new needs have developed. This follow-up phase is repeated as many times as necessary to insure the young parent and their family connect with resources and services in the community.
ACT for Youth Center of Excellence staff piloted this tool with six expectant and parenting young people in Pathways communities, and it was very well received. Participants found the survey duration manageable and the questions to be relevant and valuable. One new parent of a 6-month old son found the process extremely useful, wishing she had this opportunity prior to giving birth, saying, “it would have been nice to have everything set up before I had him.”

The assessment examines the full scope of the student’s situation, considering financial and social support, mental health, employment status, housing, food, clothing, health care, transportation, educational support, vocational services, and the student’s parenting skills. This comprehensive picture of the student’s current environment allows Pathways to Success staff to tailor an approach that will meet the distinctive needs of each young parent, improving their own -- and their children’s -- health, development, well-being, and self-sufficiency.

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Supporting Young Families: The Role of Social Network Analysis

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Young parents, especially teen parents, must depend on a network of support and multiple services to raise their children, achieve educational and financial goals, and keep their families healthy. Resources for expectant and parenting teens and young adults may come from many directions: supportive housing, child care, and employment services, to name a few – but often there is no clearly identifiable system that coordinates these efforts.

Pathways to Success, an initiative of the New York State Department of Health, aims to better connect parenting teens and young adults to key resources in Buffalo, Rochester, and the Bronx. The initiative funds one community college and one public school district in each community, with technical assistance provided by the BCTR’s ACT for Youth Center of Excellence. Specifically, ACT staff members Amanda Purington, Dora Welker, Divine Sebuharara, Mary Maley, Christy Heib, Jane Powers, and Heather Wynkoop-Beach have all played important roles on various parts of this initiative.

While Pathways grantees had a good sense of available services, coordinating these services to best serve youth in need was a daunting challenge. ACT staff recognized that social network analysis could be used in these communities to both create a distinct picture of existing networks and identify ways to strengthen collaborations.

Social network analysis is a set of methods for examining social structures and relationships within a network. Using the PARTNER social network analysis tool (created at the University of Colorado Denver), ACT staff worked with grantees to build customized online surveys and analyzed results in order to better understand collaborative activity within grantee networks and possibilities for new connections.

To define their networks, all the Pathways grantees were asked to compile a list of organizations with whom they already have relationships, or would like to be connected. ACT staff then developed PARTNER-based surveys tailored to each community. Next grantees distributed the surveys to their network lists, encouraging participation. Finally, ACT staff quantified the results, creating a visual representation of how the different organizations are -- or are not – connected.

ACT maps visual

These example maps show a city's grantees' (yellow dots) network with all collaborations (top) and then those at the "networking" and "coalition" levels of engagement.

Using the survey results, ACT staff created two types of network maps for the Pathways to Success initiative. The first map illustrates the level of collaboration. “Networking” is the most basic level: members of the network are aware of one another and may have informal relationships, but do not make any major decisions together. Networking is followed on the continuum by cooperation, coordination, and coalition, with collaboration at the highest level – when all major decisions are made collectively. The second map depicts frequency of contact among organizations. “Higher” and “more frequent” are not always ideal or feasible. The maps help spur discussion of what level of collaboration and frequency of contact would best serve young families in each community.

Three network indicators are also included in the analysis: 1) density -- the number of network ties relative to the total number of possible ties – which demonstrates the overall cohesiveness of the collaborative, 2) degree centralization, which refers to how well connected the members of the network are collectively, and 3) the level of trust among the members as a whole. For example, one community network had an overall trust score of 78%, indicating that a majority of responding organizations reported high levels of mutual trust. In addition to these whole network indicators, many other metrics can also be examined for each of the organizations in the network.

To discuss the findings, ACT for Youth held “data dialogue” sessions with grantees in each community. The network maps clarified where communication and collaboration are strong, and where there are opportunities to help the community better serve expectant and parenting young people. Some grantees were surprised that while their community was rich in resources, those resources were not being evenly accessed. Grantees also recognized a lack of coordination among certain organizations, resulting in some members of the network “doing the same job many times over.” Other grantees realized the need to focus on strengthening and building community systems to include organizations that may not have completed the survey, but should be at the table. For example, one group was surprised when they noticed that their county health department and a home visiting program had not responded to the survey, prompting the grantees to think about strengthening connections to include these valuable resources in future conversations.

Following these initial sessions, the grantees are holding meetings with their networks of community organizations. These meetings mirror the first data dialogue session, but allow an opening for the larger community to discuss how they can strengthen relationships in the entire network, bring others to the table, decrease duplication of services, and take steps to bridge gaps.

For the Pathways to Success initiative, this first implementation of the survey will serve as a baseline for the communities. ACT for Youth will help grantees administer the survey annually, documenting change over time, including stronger relationships among the vital organizations within each community.

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Linking research to the practice of youth development

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0089_12_082.jpg

Stephen Hamilton

A special issue of the journal Applied Developmental Science explores the application of a truly translational research process to "youth development." The issue is edited by Stephen Hamilton, BCTR associate director for youth development.

From the abstract for the issue:

The articles in this special issue address some of the challenges of strengthening the links between research and the practice of youth development and identify some approaches that have worked well. Youth development emerged from practice rather than from theory or research. Research that is most useful in the practice of youth development honors that primacy both by exploring questions that are important in practice and by engaging practitioners as partners, not merely as consumers.

...

A consistent theme of this issue is that the conventional portrayal of research-practice linkage as uni-directional is both inaccurate and inadequate. Different kinds of research inform different dimensions of practice; practice can and should guide research. Efforts to aid practitioners in accessing, understanding, and using research findings should be accompanied by efforts to aid researchers in posing questions about topics that matter to practitioners, conducting research that comprehends the complexity in which those topics are embedded, honoring practitioner wisdom, and enlarging the circle of those who conduct research.

The issue includes the following articles (BCTR staff in bold):

Stephen F. Hamilton (2015) Linking Research to the Practice of Youth Development, Applied Developmental Science, 19:2, 57-59, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2015.1030016

Stephen F. Hamilton (2015) Translational Research and Youth Development, Applied Developmental Science, 19:2, 60-73, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2014.968279

Reed W. Larson, Kathrin C. Walker, Natalie Rusk & Lisa B. Diaz (2015) Understanding Youth Development from the Practitioner's Point of View: A Call for Research on Effective Practice, Applied Developmental Science, 19:2, 74-86, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2014.972558

Mary Agnes Hamilton & Stephen F. Hamilton (2015) Seeking Social Inventions to Improve the Transition to Adulthood, Applied Developmental Science, 19:2, 87-107, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2014.975227

Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, Karen Schantz & Jutta Dotterweich (2015) Implementing Evidence-Based Programs: Lessons Learned From the Field, Applied Developmental Science, 19:2, 108-116, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2015.1020155

Nicole Yohalem & Vivian Tseng (2015) Commentary: Moving From Practice to Research, and Back, Applied Developmental Science, 19:2, 117-120, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2014.983033

 

Linking research to the practice of youth development - Applied Developmental Science

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ACT for Youth at American Evaluation Association conference

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Powers, Purington, and Maley

Powers, Purington, and Maley

This October, staff from the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence participated in the annual conference for the American Evaluation Association held in Denver, CO. For the conference, Jane Powers, Mandy Purington, and Mary Maley organized a panel on the theme of building capacity to strengthen youth programming through the use of evaluation findings. The ACT team described how the Center of Excellence has been supporting the implementation of evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs. Through case examples, they illustrated how implementation data are summarized and made accessible to program staff, and how these data help staff reflect on evaluation findings and identify ways to improve fidelity and quality. Colleagues from the University of Wisconsin joined the panel to present on their work in Madison with community program staff, educators, and youth.

In a demonstration session, the ACT team described the three-phase needs and resources assessment process they developed to identify gaps in local supports for expectant and parenting young people. Their approach includes a community partner brainstorm phase, a key informant interview process, and youth focus groups with expectant and parenting young people. They described how the information gained from this process led to action planning for each of the participating communities.

Finally, Jane Powers served as a discussant on a panel organized by Abe Wandersman addressing the issue of organizational readiness for implementing innovations. The three papers in this session focused on how to assess, build, and evaluate organizational readiness.

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ACT for Youth supports sex education and positive youth development at Provider Day

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Attendees at Provider Day

Attendees at Provider Day
Photo by Brian Maley

This September, the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence (COE) sponsored Provider Day 2014, a professional development conference for 224 teen pregnancy prevention program staff from communities across New York State. The COE provides technical assistance, training, and evaluation for three pregnancy prevention initiatives funded by the New York State Department of Health. Sex educators and youth service professionals from each initiative came together in Albany to share and gain new insights, strategies, and tools to promote healthy development among youth.

The evening before Provider Day, the BCTR hosted a reception that set a warm and collegial tone. Jane Powers and John Eckenrode opened the day’s events, and BCTR staff offered workshops on a range of topics, including Self-Care and Youth Work (Heather Wynkoop Beach and Michele Luc), Youth with Mental Health Concerns (Jutta Dotterweich), Using Evaluation Data (Mary Maley and Amanda Purington), and Life Purpose and Teens (Janis Whitlock), among others.

One participant wrote,

I found the day valuable and validating. I believe we need all the validation we can get when working in this field. It's not easy, and when we can recharge and gain new knowledge and tools, I know that I come back to the office looking for ways to use the information I have gotten. Thank you!

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ACT for Youth at HHS Conference

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Jane Powers, Jutta Dotterweich, and Amanda Purington

Jane Powers, Jutta Dotterweich, and Amanda Purington of the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence were presenters at the 2014 U.S. Health and Human Services Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grantee Conference in Washington, DC this June. The conference brought together federally funded prevention programs to enhance understanding of best practices, programs, and strategies, particularly on the theme of “Bridging the Gaps: Eliminating Disparities in Teen Pregnancy and Sexual Health.”

Conference participants offer evidence-based programs in their communities in order to support youth in improving sexual health (e.g., delaying sexual activity and using condoms and effective contraception when they do become sexually active). These programs are not new, but to ensure positive results funders are now strongly emphasizing fidelity to program design as well as implementation quality. Recognizing that many participants struggle to collect and use data effectively, Powers and Purington offered tools to track attendance, monitor fidelity, and assess quality, as well as strategies to help facilitators use data to improve program implementation. They also shared lessons learned in New York State’s efforts to scale up evidence-based programs.

Dotterweich and Powers focused on building organizational capacity for evidence-based programming. They introduced participants to resources intended to enhance facilitator competencies, as well as an online training on implementing evidence-based programs in adolescent sexual health that was recently developed by ACT for Youth.

Jane Powers is project director for the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence, where Jutta Dotterweich is director of Training and Technical Assistance and Amanda Purington is director of Evaluation and Research. The Center of Excellence supports the New York State Department of Health in its efforts to promote adolescent sexual health.

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