The Need for Informed Conversations Between Research and Practice

Recognizing areas of convergence in both conceptual theories and program experience, scholars and practitioners have begun to synthesize lessons learned from the emerging research base as well as from federal, state, and local programs that serve youth, in order to identify key factors that influence how youth move into pathways that encourage them to become productive, nurturing, and contributing adults. In considering the implications of research on social settings in program design and future research studies, the workshop participants stressed the need for new forms of informed conversations, collaboration, and partnerships between research scientists and service providers in the areas of community and youth development.

Existing Partnerships and Collaborations

In reviewing the need for new forums to foster dialogue and collaboration between the research and practice communities, the participants observed that several partnership efforts already are in place. Several "bridging organizations" have emerged, for example, to facilitate dialogues within and between programs focused on youth services and community development. Such efforts include the National Community-Building Network, schools of graduate education in the fields of social policy and human services that link research and practice, educational programs that offer in-depth training for service providers, and electronic networks such as HANDS.NET and the comprehensive strategies forum that offer on-line access to program experiences and perspectives.

Several research collaboration networks have also emerged to help integrate



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--> The Need for Informed Conversations Between Research and Practice Recognizing areas of convergence in both conceptual theories and program experience, scholars and practitioners have begun to synthesize lessons learned from the emerging research base as well as from federal, state, and local programs that serve youth, in order to identify key factors that influence how youth move into pathways that encourage them to become productive, nurturing, and contributing adults. In considering the implications of research on social settings in program design and future research studies, the workshop participants stressed the need for new forms of informed conversations, collaboration, and partnerships between research scientists and service providers in the areas of community and youth development. Existing Partnerships and Collaborations In reviewing the need for new forums to foster dialogue and collaboration between the research and practice communities, the participants observed that several partnership efforts already are in place. Several "bridging organizations" have emerged, for example, to facilitate dialogues within and between programs focused on youth services and community development. Such efforts include the National Community-Building Network, schools of graduate education in the fields of social policy and human services that link research and practice, educational programs that offer in-depth training for service providers, and electronic networks such as HANDS.NET and the comprehensive strategies forum that offer on-line access to program experiences and perspectives. Several research collaboration networks have also emerged to help integrate

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--> the findings from studies by individual researchers. Examples of such networks include the studies on poverty, neighborhoods, and child development organized within the Social Science Research Council and the MacArthur Foundation Network on Successful Adolescent Development. Integration of Research and Practice Although some efforts to create multiagency and multidisciplinary approaches addressing the relationships between youth development and neighborhood influences are under way, participants observed that these approaches offer few opportunities to examine basic conceptual models that accompany program design and implementation. A critical, ongoing examination of emerging theories, instrumentation, and research findings could help integrate efforts to strengthen social organization within disadvantaged communities, improve programs designed to enhance positive outcomes for youth, and create ongoing dialogues between individual program efforts and research studies. In addition, better links need to be established between service providers and researchers within community and youth development efforts that engage three types of programs: (a) community-building programs, designed to attract investment capital, regulate land-use patterns, and enhance economic opportunities; (b) social service programs, designed to enhance the quality of community services in areas such as health, safety, and education; strengthen informal social networks; and improve the quality of life within depressed regions; and (c) youth-oriented programs, designed to enhance positive outcomes for youth by addressing their basic developmental needs. The emerging research on the influence of social settings on youth outcomes, as well as new conceptual models and measures focused on processes of variation and change within communities, has stimulated interest in creating additional opportunities for the exchange of knowledge and expertise. The workshop participants noted that this exchange requires not only interdisciplinary approaches that can draw on different areas of research scholarship, but also the creation of forums that can foster sustained interchanges among researchers, service providers, and other community leaders (such as those affiliated with business, religious, and political organizations) who have extensive experience in working with youth or neighborhoods and who understand the types of interactions that characterize the social settings of today's adolescents. The workshop participants observed that this exchange of knowledge and perspectives is important for several reasons: Emerging research on social context factors and interactions offers an important opportunity to examine the variations within settings that can directly contribute to youth outcomes;

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--> This research base can contribute to the design and assessment of community-based programs intended to improve youth outcomes; The relatively recent origins of research on social settings suggest that significant modifications and improvements in the conceptual frameworks and research measures should be expected in the coming decade; The practitioner community has experience and perspectives that are critical to the development of useful theory and measures regarding the role and impact of social settings and social interactions; The multidisciplinary character of the emerging research scholarship will require intensive training programs and bridging efforts focused on understanding and improving outcomes for youth; and The patchwork of programs that has been assembled over the past few decades to assist children, youth, and families is now in flux as policy officials and service providers in a variety of organizational settings seek to provide human services and supports in a more comprehensive, coordinated manner. Workshop participants observed that the time is ripe to describe the experiences and insights associated with efforts to change the quality and nature of educational, health, and social service systems; to examine the variation within different community experiments; and to develop data collection efforts that can assess their impact on youth outcomes over time.