Voices From the Field: Implementing Programs That Advance Equity

Posted May 20, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog ssirsupplementhowto 2021

A new issue of Stan­ford Social Inno­va­tion Review — from Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty — is here, and it includes a spe­cial sup­ple­ment spon­sored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The sup­ple­ment explores how social change lead­ers can use imple­men­ta­tion sci­ence to improve the lives of chil­dren, young peo­ple and fam­i­lies in a way that also advances equi­ty. It spans 10 arti­cles, includ­ing entries co-authored by com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers with researchers, fun­ders and staff of com­mu­ni­ty-based organizations.

What is imple­men­ta­tion science?

Imple­men­ta­tion sci­ence is the study of fac­tors that influ­ence the effec­tive­ness of human ser­vice prac­tices, pro­grams and poli­cies. It is an evolv­ing field — one that bridges research evi­dence to the real-world set­tings of ser­vice deliv­ery — that ini­tial­ly focused on top­ics such as repli­cat­ing and scal­ing rig­or­ous­ly eval­u­at­ed evi­dence-based practices.

Imple­men­ta­tion science’s inequity issue

So far, the field of imple­men­ta­tion sci­ence has not seen equi­table out­comes for recip­i­ents of human ser­vice pro­grams. Rea­sons for these racial, eth­nic and oth­er dis­par­i­ties include:

  • the fail­ure to invite com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to devel­op or select the inter­ven­tions intend­ed to ben­e­fit them;
  • pow­er dynam­ics between fun­ders and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers that ham­per authen­tic engage­ment with res­i­dents; and
  • struc­tur­al racism and oth­er forms of oppres­sion, such as trans­pho­bia and ableism, that are not explic­it­ly acknowl­edged as part of the con­text for imple­ment­ing evi­dence-based practices.

Intro­duc­ing equi­table implementation

The sup­ple­ment pro­pos­es a new approach to imple­men­ta­tion sci­ence. Called equi­table imple­men­ta­tion, the core ele­ments of this approach are:

  • Build­ing trust­ing rela­tion­ships. Sweep­ing ges­tures don’t build trust. As described in the arti­cle Trust the Peo­ple,” a cam­paign to close a jail and redi­rect resources to the com­mu­ni­ty moved at the speed of trust. The campaign’s part­ners — a legal advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tion, ArchC­i­ty Defend­ers, in St. Louis and Ampli­fy Fund, a pooled grant­mak­ing phil­an­thropy — tout every­day inter­ac­tions that allow peo­ple to feel seen and heard as key fac­tors in their progress.
  • Incor­po­rat­ing youth voice and equal­iz­ing pow­er dynam­ics. Pow­er dif­fer­en­tials exist in imple­men­ta­tion efforts when spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als or groups have greater author­i­ty, agency or influ­ence over oth­ers. The arti­cle Youth Lead­er­ship in Action” tells how youth and young adults who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care helped to devel­op and imple­ment Youth Thrive, a Cen­ter for Study of Social Pol­i­cy ini­tia­tive that aims to address long-entrenched prac­tices in the nation’s child wel­fare systems.
  • Mak­ing invest­ments and deci­sions to advance equi­ty. Suc­cess­ful, sus­tain­able ser­vice deliv­ery requires a deep under­stand­ing of a community’s needs, as defined by com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers them­selves. The arti­cle Com­mu­ni­ty Takes the Wheel” shares how CYC, an orga­ni­za­tion based in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Island, used the Evidence2Success™ frame­work to change the way it deliv­ered pro­grams serv­ing local com­mu­ni­ties of color.
  • Apply­ing com­mu­ni­ty-defined evi­dence. When pro­grams lever­age evi­dence drawn from prac­tice and com­mu­ni­ty expe­ri­ence, they are bet­ter able to respond to a community’s needs, assets and his­to­ry — and more like­ly to suc­ceed. The arti­cle Lis­ten­ing to Black Par­ents” describes how Vil­lage of Wis­dom, a non­prof­it in North Car­oli­na that sup­ports fam­i­ly orga­niz­ing and advo­ca­cy — used the wis­dom of Black par­ents to design strate­gies for cre­at­ing cul­tur­al­ly affirm­ing learn­ing environments.
  • Mak­ing adap­ta­tions to fit local and cul­tur­al con­text. Adapt­ing evi­dence-based prac­tices to the needs and strengths of a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty can increase both the avail­abil­i­ty and uptake of ser­vices. The arti­cle Faith-Based Orga­ni­za­tions as Lead­ers of Imple­men­ta­tion” high­lights the impor­tance of trust­ed com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions in serv­ing immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in Travis Coun­ty, Texas. Anoth­er arti­cle, Com­mu­ni­ty-Dri­ven Health Solu­tions on Chicago’s South Side,” doc­u­ments a sim­i­lar dynamic.
  • Crit­i­cal per­spec­tives on imple­men­ta­tion sci­ence. To date, the field of imple­men­ta­tion sci­ence has lacked crit­i­cal inquiries that explore if and how its the­o­ries, mod­els and frame­works advance equi­ty. The arti­cle Equi­ty in Imple­men­ta­tion Sci­ence Is Long Over­due” dis­cuss­es meth­ods that per­pet­u­ate or exac­er­bate inequities and pro­pos­es three calls to action for researchers and practitioners.

The Casey Foundation’s Bead­sie Woo, along with Alli­son Metz and Audrey Lop­er of the Nation­al Imple­men­ta­tion Research Net­work, draft­ed the supplement’s intro­duc­tion and recommendations.

Togeth­er, we hope to accel­er­ate the grow­ing con­ver­sa­tion about strate­gies that can make imple­men­ta­tion effec­tive, mean­ing­ful and tai­lored to the com­mu­ni­ties it serves,” says Woo, who serves as direc­tor of Fam­i­ly and Youth Finan­cial Sta­bil­i­ty and pre­vi­ous­ly led the Foundation’s invest­ments in imple­men­ta­tion science.

View the SSIR supplement

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