Not all evidence-based practices (EBPs) are created equal. When a practice or program is designated as EBP, it simply means that there is research showing that it produces statistically significant change in just one short-term outcome — and it may not be the one your clients need.
Therefore, when choosing an EBP, it’s recommended to go beyond the “EBP label” and actually understand the research behind. Only then you will be able to assess whether or not the practice or program fits the needs of your clients and agency. Luckily, as Patrick S. Tennant* explains below, there are user-friendly and informative online clearinghouses that can help with this process.
WHY USING EBP CLEARINGHOUSES: The best EBP clearinghouses report on degrees of evidence rather than simply stating the “EBP-or-not” designation, which is in fact a false dichotomy. They display a wide breadth of EBPs, indicate the degree of research supporting each, and give users the ability to cross-reference the degree of research support by target population, program focus, and program features.
HOW TO DO IT: A variety of public and private organizations have taken up the call to create curated databases of information about program and practices and the evidence supporting them. There are many databases out there, varying in their focus, review procedures, user-experience, how often they are updated, and so on. This amount of choices can be overwhelming and stall well intentioned searchers. A great place to start is the Results First Clearinghouse Database. This database functions as a clearinghouse of clearinghouses, where users can effectively sort through the findings of eight EBP clearinghouses at the same time.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE INFORMATION: There are many aspects to consider when selecting and implementing an EBP, several of which are outside of the clearinghouse’s purview. For example, searchers may want to consider:
- Fit with the the population: Does the EBP fit with the background, characteristics, and culture of your clients?
- Outcomes: Does the research indicate that there was clinically significant change in the outcome? Is this the change you want to see in your population?
- Fidelity vs. adaptation: Do you have to read a script word for word? Can you modify the content or tailor the program while maintaining the primary components? For example, can you include cultural references to increase relevance and engagement for a particular population? Do you have to get any modifications approved?
- Cost-effectiveness: Some EBPs come with costs to purchase materials and trainings. Are you able to budget for this? Can you sustain training when there is staff turnover? Bear in mind that some EBPs offer materials and trainings for much lower cost than others.
- Implementation: There is a variety of implementation strategies, which can lead to meaningful differences in program outcomes, and should be reviewed during the EBP selection
process. The variation among programs, settings, and their interactions makes it difficult to recommend a “best” implementation strategy, but finding the appropriate one for your program could be crucial for the program’s success. These are two useful resources to navigate implementation:
- Fixsen, D. L., Naoom, S. F., Blase, K. A., & Friedman, R. M., Implementation research: a synthesis of the literature (2005).
- Nilsen, P., “Making sense of implementation theories, models and frameworks,” in the journal Implementation Science, vol. 10, issue 1 (2015).
*Patrick Tennant, PhD, is a research associate with the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing. A version of this article originally appeared in the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing’s Clinician’s Corner Digest: The EBP Issue.