I have often been struck that when I start on a research project, I have trouble really seeing and feeling what can be achieved. As I look back on my work, I often think that—if only I had realized just what the world would look like when we were done, that vision or sense of it might have made our work both easier and better. I think in particular about what it would have been like if we had assumed that not only would the intervention we were testing have been stronger, but we would have planned for its dissemination and sustainability more effectively. In that vein, I thought it might be good to try to envision what our little adventure might look like in two, five, and ten years.
(I don’t say any of this to say this is what we must do. Don’t forget I am planning to cut back in two years and retire in five. And I don’t want our dreams to become our burden.)
What We Could Accomplish in the Next Two Years
We have gotten fifty neighborhoods at various levels of involvement with the PNRC. All of them have registered and get information from our website about evidence-based practices. Twenty or so have implemented one or more of our recommended measures and are using our website to collect data and to display it to their residents, policymakers, and organizations funding them. Thanks to materials we produce from their data, they are able to effectively publicize to residents and policymakers the importance of the outcomes that our measures document and, increasingly, public attention and practice is shaped by evidence and discussion about the outcomes and processes that our measures assess.
At least twenty neighborhoods, are implementing programs that we have specified and informed them about. We have partnered with them in securing funding for these programs. Solid designs (interrupted time series designs?) are in place to detect the impact of these programs. The measures that these neighborhoods are collecting are just the ones needed to detect effects of these programs.
Many more neighborhoods have residents and neighborhood organization leaders who are using kernels to influence prosocial behavior. In many cases, good experimental designs are being used evaluate the use of the kernels. (Our success with the kernels followed our working out the nettlesome issues of conflict of interest and ownership. J )
Our work on policy, which has been distilled down to one page fact sheets, as well as high quality reviews of the empirical evidence is influencing policy making and advocacy in twenty to thirty of our communities and our repository of policies has become the place that local, state, and national policy makers look to guidance about the most useful policies.
Many more unregistered users of the website are getting information from it about evidence-based prevention.
Our online journal has been started. Just as scientific publications went from Latin in the time of Newton to English in the time of Priestly, we have evolved new and more effective ways of communicating scientific knowledge through an online journal that makes use of all of the possibilities of the internet and makes the knowledge simultaneously accessible to both scientists and nonscientists. As a result, science is once again an integral part of public discussion, as it was in Priestley’s and Franklin’s day.
Through partnerships with neighborhoods and communities, we have helped many neighborhoods get funding to implement effective interventions to reduce poverty and improve outcomes for children and youth. And we have become a key resource for evaluating these initiatives.
Geoffrey Canada likes us!
The White House has a ceremony celebrating the Promise Neighborhoods and we are invited. (Don’t forget to take a souvenir napkin.)
We have succeeded in getting additional funding. Some of the funding is for an NIH funded center on prevention in high poverty neighborhoods. The rest is for specific groups of investigators who are conducting various trials in multiple sets of neighborhoods; they are all part of the Center.
Published papers are beginning to accumulate that show the benefits of a variety of interventions in high poverty neighborhoods. One of those papers reports on the impact of massive diffusion of kernels in a series of neighborhoods.
Thanks to the use of kernels and programs like positive action that increase positive reinforcement (caring, support, warmth, appreciation, love, and forgiveness) the levels of violence are found to be declining in neighborhoods where we have succeeded in disseminating these programs and practices.
The Center for the Promise Neighborhood Consortium has continued to articulate and disseminate programs, policies, and practices that are making a difference in the lives of now millions of people. All around the world people come to our website for the most useful information about what works, how to implement it, and how to evaluate.
Our Center has succeeded in creating a “marketplace” in which neighborhood and community leaders, neighborhood residents, policymakers, and early career and established scientists can connect with each other exchange information, support each other’s efforts, and form new teams.
Histories have begun to be written about the eight years of the Obama administration. One of the most impressive accomplishments that is widely noted is that concentrated poverty has begun to decline and there has been a marked increase the proportion of children living in poverty who are succeeding in school and in their social relations. Violence in poverty neighborhoods has declined. Thanks to the adoption of new policies the proportion of families living in poverty is declining across America. At the same time, there is an increased sense across the nation that we are all one people and that it is in everyone’s interest to support the successful development of children—even when they are different from us in race, ethnicity, or economic situation. The vision of one nation that Obama articulated in his first campaign has begun to be achieved.
In many of the accounts of this progress, mention is made of the Promise Neighborhood Research Consortium, which brought the knowledge and tools of the behavioral science community to bear on the problem of neighborhood poverty and contributed to the increased use of data to guide the evolution of more nurturing family, school, workplace, and neighborhood environments.
Looking back over this, I can think of one reason, why we have not generally done this. It can turn into a burden of expectations. That is where the ACT stuff comes in handy. We can have such fears and still work to try and make the world a little bit more like what we can envision and a little bit less like the one we now have.