#1: Invest in building trusting relationships.

Building positive stakeholder relationships increases the likelihood that staff will “buy in” to the research process, be candid in their input, and act on results. We work to build trusting relationships with stakeholders and participants by explaining the goals and methods of studies in accessible terms, paying attention to the larger circumstances in which they operate, and developing the knowledge needed to improve their efforts. This approach requires understanding the policy and political environment in which partners and participants work, the pressures they face, and the aspirations they hold dear.

#2: Draw on the knowledge embedded in and around an organization.

In addition to rigorous designs and multiple research methods, we seek to tap into sources of expertise that are often overlooked. By soliciting the perspectives of clients, front line workers, middle managers, and external stakeholders, as well as leadership, we aim to form a complete picture of how policies and programs are experienced. Furthermore, we have developed expertise in analyzing administrative data, an under-utilized resource that often produces findings unobtainable elsewhere. Combining these qualitative and quantitative approaches produces knowledge that is concrete, accessible, and actionable.

#3: Minimize the burden of research on operations.

We acknowledge the burden of research activities on staff and clients. Minimizing the impact of research on operations requires thinking carefully about the value of different types of data, the way in which data are collected, and balancing value with the cost of collecting the data—to the researchers and the program staff. We also look for ways to leverage the value of the data to program staff beyond a study’s primary purpose.

#4: Communicate lessons as they develop.

When appropriate, we communicate lessons to stakeholders during a study rather than after the production of a final report. Researchers often learn about matters large and small that can improve services—but the window of opportunity for using that knowledge may close if researchers wait to complete all of their work. We aim to provide advice using the best evidence available at the time decisions are being made.

#5: Make recommendations strategically.

We aim to provide concrete, viable recommendations that take into account organizational culture and capacity, financial resources, and the regulatory, legal, and policy environments. This means shaping recommendations to accommodate the demanding workloads and multiple priorities that are part of managing social service agencies.

#6: Anticipate change.

Child welfare is a field in constant flux—in regulations, laws, financing, and staff—and these changes usually wreak havoc with carefully planned research designs. We aim to be creative and flexible in our methodologies, maintaining as much rigor as possible, communicating the implications of methodological changes in a supportive way, and adapting new methods when necessary.