Community-Based Research: A Mixed Methods Study of the Influence of Community Educators’ Efficacy Beliefs, Program Attitudes, and Fidelity Intention on Practice
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology
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Although the availability of evidence-based prevention and health promotion programs is on the rise, there is still much to learn about these programs once they are disseminated at the community level and in diverse “community classroom” environments outside of prescribed “lab” settings (Durlak & Dupre, 2008; Katz & Wandersman, 2016). There is evidence to suggest variability in community-based program implementation, but the focus of past research has primarily been on single dimensions, such as program components and dosage, without much consideration of the process of implementation or the influence of “frontline” staff (Suarez-Balcazar, Mirza, & Hansen, 2015). The purpose of this sequential, mixed methods study was to advance our understanding of community-based research by exploring social-cognitive factors and program attitudes that influenced community educators’ approach to research and practice during the implementation of an efficacy trial of evidence-informed couple relationship education (CRE) programs. The research questions and framework for analysis were guided by social-cognitive theory of human agency, the theory of planned behavior, and the action-oriented research model. The first, quantitative phase of the study examined the relative influence of community educators’ self-efficacy beliefs and perceived program benefits on program fidelity intention and program fidelity. Quantitative data were drawn from community educators’ (N = 51) self-report, pre- and post- program implementation process surveys completed as part of established university-community partnership protocols for monitoring program activities. Findings indicated that community educators expressed moderately high, to high, levels of self-efficacy, perceived program benefits, program fidelity intention, and implementation practices that supported program fidelity. Perceived program benefits were significantly and uniquely associated with program fidelity intention, such that higher levels of perceived benefits for couples from participation in the evidence-informed programs were associated with higher levels of program fidelity intention. Community educators’ fidelity intention was a significant predictor of program fidelity, such that higher levels of intention to deliver the program as designed predicted program fidelity in practice. In the second, qualitative phase of the study, a phenomenological approach guided semi-structured interviews with community educators (N = 4). Findings from inductive and deductive analysis of the community educators’ experiences illustrated that effective university-community partnerships promote shared learning and play a positive role in the community (Strier, 2011). The university-community partnership discussed in this study facilitated “bridging the gap” between research and practice through a systematic, action-oriented approach to community-based research. The community educators defined collaboration among university and community partners as “working together” and organizational elements such as shared-learning experiences and centralized resources were effective in broadening opportunities for using rigorous research methods in community-based settings. The university partner was described and the centralizing and directive agency, providing oversight and ongoing technical assistance. Community educators described being actively engaged in community-based research, with roles and responsibilities that were dynamic, clearly defined, and relative to the roles and responsibilities of the university partner. The university-community partnership model in this study was unique in that the university partner served as a direct implementation site, simultaneously engaged in the same kind of community engagement work as the community educators, which promoted receptivity to university directives among the community educators. Additionally, findings demonstrated community educators were efficacious in developing different methods for balancing program fidelity and maintaining a flexible, participant-focused approach toward research and program activities. Implementation efficacy was demonstrated through perceived influence over the community-based research “classroom” environment, ongoing self-directed reflection, and intentional actions to make a positive impact in their communities by implementing the CRE programs as designed. The more seasoned community educators experienced some internal conflict between “adding their own style” and maintaining program fidelity out of their desire to encourage participant engagement and build rapport with “real-life” examples. Qualitative findings suggest community educators’ perceived the evidence-informed CRE programs as beneficial, with the potential for making a “big impact” in their local communities. The random assignment design utilized in the efficacy study, which resulted in a portion of interested participants not being assigned to a CRE program group, challenged community-educators’ receptivity to the rigorous research design. However, in-person, university-led training in the purpose for the research design and the evidence-informed background of the CRE programs promoted buy-in. Additionally, the community educators reported valuing being a part of the research process based their first-hand observations of benefits to participants, such as their personal growth and developing supports that continued beyond the program workshops. The community educators’ community level connections and commitment were instrumental in extending the reach of university resources into different, off-campus settings, while also broadening opportunities for using rigorous methods to answer challenging and practical family life questions. It is recommended that “train the trainer” trainings and other organizational supports should not only focus on readiness to deliver program content, but also on developing positive efficacy beliefs and receptivity toward evidence-based programs and its usefulness for potential program participants.