Next Steps

In outlining steps that could be taken to foster the exchange of expertise among representatives of research, policy, and practice at the national and local levels, the workshop participants offered several observations to guide the development of future efforts in this field. They noted that several steps are needed to enhance the integration of emerging research on social settings in the design of programmatic efforts:

1.  

Advances in research need to be directed toward demonstrating the pathways and conditions under which social settings affect youth development, as well as the ways in which social settings are perceived and influenced by the youth who reside within them. Theory-building and methodological innovations are needed to develop more powerful approaches to capture the complexity of social interactions and specific mechanisms that can explain different developmental sequences and trajectories over time, as well as the variation in youth outcomes within communities that share common features. Although some promising methods do exist (such as hierarchial linear modeling and growth curve and life event analysis), they have limited capacity for describing multidimensional life course trajectories or developmental outcomes in multiple contextual settings. In this area, attention must be given to strengthening research in ethnic minority communities, in order to capture the norms and adaptation processes characteristic of different cultures and to discern important factors and processes that facilitate or discourage youth in becoming successful adults.

Efforts to integrate ethnographic and quantitative studies will need to address the long history of misunderstandings among investigators who employ



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--> Next Steps In outlining steps that could be taken to foster the exchange of expertise among representatives of research, policy, and practice at the national and local levels, the workshop participants offered several observations to guide the development of future efforts in this field. They noted that several steps are needed to enhance the integration of emerging research on social settings in the design of programmatic efforts: 1.   Advances in research need to be directed toward demonstrating the pathways and conditions under which social settings affect youth development, as well as the ways in which social settings are perceived and influenced by the youth who reside within them. Theory-building and methodological innovations are needed to develop more powerful approaches to capture the complexity of social interactions and specific mechanisms that can explain different developmental sequences and trajectories over time, as well as the variation in youth outcomes within communities that share common features. Although some promising methods do exist (such as hierarchial linear modeling and growth curve and life event analysis), they have limited capacity for describing multidimensional life course trajectories or developmental outcomes in multiple contextual settings. In this area, attention must be given to strengthening research in ethnic minority communities, in order to capture the norms and adaptation processes characteristic of different cultures and to discern important factors and processes that facilitate or discourage youth in becoming successful adults. Efforts to integrate ethnographic and quantitative studies will need to address the long history of misunderstandings among investigators who employ

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--> these two approaches. A central challenge is that of articulating how carefully sequenced, multimethod research can reveal the interplay between developmental processes and social interactions within communities. Comparative ethnographies (studies of neighborhoods conducted simultaneously across multiple sites), as well as research that uses both quantitative and ethnographic methods, offer critical contributions to theory-building, the design of research instruments and data collection, and ultimately the design and refinement of approaches to foster constructive youth development. 2.   The embryonic work on social settings warrants systematic efforts to orchestrate joint knowledge-building efforts among those who design, study, and evaluate youth service and community development programs. Although still incomplete, research on the diversity and quality of youth relationships with peers and adults in different social settings has the potential to offer important insights for program strategies and outcome assessments in youth service agencies. Research on the time spent in different social settings can illustrate the diversity of experiences that youth confront in their daily lives. Identifying components and strategies within successful communities that support positive outcomes for youth is a common goal within both the research and service provider enterprise. The increasing specialization of the research community has created a need for strategies designed to broaden the dialogue among disciplines, experiment with new forms of research design and data collection, and foster reward systems and a culture that encourage collaborative efforts between research and practice. 3.   Experience with youth development research and programs, including research on social settings, should be integrated with other community development efforts. Investments in social strategies and community resources that can promote youth development will require more attention to the types of social resources that youth seek out and create, as well as consideration of the ways in which youth gain information and control over their environment. These efforts need to be integrated with other community development initiatives, such as special economic investment initiatives and health and social services (including housing, education, and recreational facilities) designed to enhance the capacity of communities to achieve the goals of their residents. The creation of special programs or demonstration projects can help foster the development of healthy neighborhoods, but such enhancement efforts need to become part of the natural set of daily relationships within the neighborhood so they can be sustained over time. The successful blending of different social classes within "poor" or "dangerous" communities to achieve diversity and heterogeneity among youth and adults within informal social organizations and personal relationships is a particular challenge that requires attention.

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--> Many generations created the neighborhood environments that surround today's youth, and quick fixes cannot be expected for problems that were more than a half century in the making. As public and private agencies prepare their strategies and program plans for the decade ahead and consider alternative methods of investment in jobs, schools, child care, health care, and housing, the field of youth development will continue to gain attention. The growing social antagonism toward youth, driven by perceptions of a youth crime wave and youthful predators, suggests that punitive as well as supportive measures will gain increased support. Demographic trends indicate that a large cohort of youth will move through adolescence during a time when society is experiencing major changes in its social and economic policies, highlighting the need for strategies that can offer positive guidance during times of conflicting messages and uncertain futures. The time is ripe for informed action to add to an emerging knowledge base and to enhance program opportunities for building communities that can support their youth.