Today we feature the podcast, Doing Translational Research: Evaluating Military Family Programs from Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR). The research at BCTR works to address the most pressing human problems and translate their research into practice. The Doing Translational Research podcast features conversations from researchers, practitioners and others involved in translational research and explore their work in a way that connects to the professionals in the field.
In episode 8, Evaluating Military Family Programs¸ Karl Pillemer interviews Dr. Brian Leidy, Director of The Military Projects at BCTR. The Military Projects program has been doing research and evaluation of military programs for 25 years. The program develops outreach, public awareness materials, training and education for professional development, as well as offering evaluation expertise and technical assistance to a variety of family support programs in all branches of the U.S. Military. The results of their projects have influenced practice and policies that continue to improve the quality of life for military service members and their families by building resiliency and preventing/reducing risky behaviors.
According to Dr. Leidy, military communities have a very specific set of problems and issues that they face, because they are the most racially, ethnically, culturally and socio-economically diverse community that exists in today’s world. In the last 25 years, the family support programs that have developed are responding to the challenges facing this community which,
“…changed dramatically in 2003 with the 2 major Gulf Wars, Iraq & Afghanistan, the level of troop involvement and the way they returned. Roughly 2 million service members were deployed and roughly 300,000 returned with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, physical injuries. This changed family support programs in the military.” (Leidy)
Dr. Leidy states that there are programs to address these problems but the issues that now have a higher focus are the secondary effects on families of service members who have experienced these problems, such as financial issues, family separations, or child/spouse abuse.
If you think back to the post-Vietnam War era and the challenges those soldiers returned to, then compare them to the soldiers of today, the needs of military communities have become clearer in recent decades, resulting in the a whole new range of support programs.
Dr. Leidy says that most of the evaluations run by The Military Projects are for family support programs. These programs are effective and meet the needs of those that they work with, their biggest challenge is engaging their target audience. The Military Projects focus on what the barriers are for those that need access to family support programs. When evaluating these programs “the focus should not be on outcome evaluation – but process evaluation. You can be 100% successful with everyone that goes through your program, but if you are only engaging 40% of your target audience – you are only 40% successful.”
We asked Dr. Leidy if there any advice he can provide for professionals that are challenged with accessing their target audience. He stated that “the biggest obstacle to success is the inability to engage the right individuals – they may not identify with the goals of your program, or there is a stigma attached to your services.” He suggested strategizing to determine how to best reach the individuals that are disengaged. “One way to get to the target audience is not to focus on the deficit but to go the route of asset building. For example, 4-H is a gateway to get families into the system – [the educators that work with 4-H] recognize when families need help with finances, substance abuse, etc.” Communicating your mission to local 4-H educators (or any organization) may help you to use that organization as an asset, which will help to fill your deficit. Of course not everyone has children so 4-H may not work for those individuals – in which case your strategy may require a varied approach to building capacity.
The ultimate message is that the evaluation process can strengthen the impact of programs for military families and add value that can lead to further support and resources in the future, but the strategy lies in evaluating the process before the outcomes.
For the podcast as well as related resources, visit:
Doing Translational Research: Evaluating Military Family Programs