Anthony Biglan and Brian Flay
This is an exciting time in America. We are witnessing the first significant effort to comprehensively address concentrated poverty in a generation and numerous efforts to ensure that all young people develop successfully. Examples of these efforts include the Obama Administration’s Promise Neighborhood initiative (inspired by the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone), the Department of Education’s Race to the Top, and a National Prevention System that a federal interagency task force has been discussing.
There is solid evidence that these ambitious efforts can succeed. The recently released Institute of Medicine report on prevention identifies numerous evidence-based programs, policies, and practices that can ensure young people’s successful development. All of the proposed efforts will draw on this knowledge.
But these efforts could fail if they do not use the scientific tools that got us this far.
Traditionally, once a program’s value has been shown by one or two rigorous experimental evaluations, it is widely implemented without further evaluation. But such a practice is risky for at least three reasons.
First, it is well-documented that a program’s benefit cannot be replicated unless the program is implemented with fidelity. If we do not measure fidelity and verify that benefits are being achieved, the quality and thereby the impact of our interventions will deteriorate.
Second, we cannot be sure that an intervention that worked for one population will work when it is tried in a different, and perhaps more challenging environment. This is especially true when we first begin to implement evidence-based interventions in high poverty neighborhoods where they have not been tried before.
Third and most important, if good science does not accompany these important efforts, we simply won’t know if they are working. Two things are paramount: good measures and good experimental evaluations. (more…)