Each year OPRE convenes a meeting on innovative social science research methods. These annual meetings support OPRE’s mission to build rigorous and relevant evidence to improve the lives of children and families. Our most recent meeting, Exploring Core Components Research in Social Service Settings, held in October 2020, highlighted approaches to identify the common elements, or core components, of effective interventions, programs, and services. These core components approaches are efforts to unpack why evidence-based practices may be effective and ultimately to better understand how practices can be tailored to the specific needs of individuals and communities.
The October 2020 meeting helped us explore when and how core components might be used in social policy research. What types of questions and circumstances are suited to this type of research? Which methods to identify or test core components are appropriate and feasible? How might the field use identified core components to adapt existing practices, create new practices, and ultimately create, apply, and disseminate evidence to improve the lives of children and families? How can the field translate advances into usable action to improve the utility of these approaches?
The meeting covered topics including:
- How core components approaches might be used to make evidence-based practices more culturally responsive and equitable;
- The importance of building meaningful and sustained partnerships as we conduct this type of work; including how to better engage stakeholders and create successful research-to-practice bridges;
- How to leverage existing evidence to develop new approaches to serve children and families;
- How core components approaches can complement traditional evidence synthesis methods to make evidence more interpretable and usable;
- How core components approaches might help us better understand how we define fidelity; and
- How the federal government has supported and leveraged core components approaches to inform the design of new and improvement of existing programs and services.
The meeting highlighted challenges and areas where more exploration is needed, including:
- The need to leverage lessons learned across fields and literatures to strengthen the implementation and subsequent impact of core components approaches.
- The need to test or validate that we have identified the right components and that they are meaningful to stakeholders.
- The need to implement validated core components in practice and then evaluate those implementations.
The meeting also identified next steps that producers and interpreters of evidence can take to advance the rigorous implementation of core components approaches:
- Strive for more consistent and transparent reporting in studies. Report on the practices that were implemented; what components comprise those practices, what adaptations were made and why those adaptations were made.
- Leverage insights from core components work to inform the design of new evaluations. For example, examine the implementation or outcomes of specific core components rather than a practice as a whole.
- Consider what others have found through core components work when developing hypotheses and in the interpretation of findings. Given an interventions’ core components, how large of an impact might we expect to find? Who do we think might benefit most from this intervention? Do our findings align with our hypotheses?
- Contemplate questions related to developing new interventions, programs, and services. How much detail should be provided in manuals about the components of a practice and about the steps necessary to implement it? What type of fidelity supports should be provided and should those supports exclusively target the core components of the practice? And how can existing research on core components be leveraged to ensure new practices are grounded in what is already known?
- Consider how to improve upon existing interventions, programs, and services. How might bundled components better support outcomes for children and families? What new components might complement those already in place?
- Think about and potentially refine how evidence is synthesized and disseminated. What questions should those working on literature reviews or evidence clearinghouses consider? What types of information is useful to collect and share publicly about existing literatures that can be used by those engaging in core components approaches?
The meeting made clear that there is much consider and more to be done on these and other fronts. But it also revealed excitement about the potential of core components approaches. Perhaps the field can leverage novel and innovative approaches such as these to inch ourselves closer to achieving our overall goals. Our meeting left us with some clear next steps and a community energized to move this work forward.