Sustainable Program Design: EBP & the Science

How do you know that the mechanism you have outlined will work? Evidence-based practice (EBP) is the intentional use of mechanisms that have been shown to have efficacy (to work) within a certain environment. A literature review is the best way to avail yourself of EBP with application to your environment. In conducting the literature review, you are seeking to inform yourself of the different models, approaches, successes and failures relate to your client population, your problem, your hypotheses, and your practice context.

Resist the common tendency to search for articles that are exactly describing the work you are doing. Seek to “inform” your work. For example, in our mentoring project, we would benefit from an awareness of other mentoring programs. But, we must also inform ourselves about alternatives to mentoring and role modeling. We must explore parenting models, boot camp models, education models and others. Articles and books on the experiences of youth projects in China or South Africa may also shed light on the challenges and opportunities of work with youth. This breadth of knowledge allows us to place our intervention in the context of other projects and interventions attempted in the past. With this information, we have a stronger case as we assert that our plan will work.

Math & Science

In presenting your case, you must boil your intervention down to a simple statement of expectation. I find Math to be a great metaphor for the task at hand. You must communicate the science, the predictability of your course of action.


If we know that the outcome is to be “4”, and we have “2” already, we evidence the equation represented in Graphic #1. Few would stumble in solving this equation.


Your presentation of the science of your program activities must be just as obvious and reasonable. If you know that the outcome is a “Healthy Child,” and you know that you are beginning with a “Child Without Purpose”, you must communicate how “Mentoring” (your intervention) will systematically address the problem and result in a “Healthy Child” [see Graphic #2].

Notice that the identification of variables in the equation is important and seemingly arbitrary. But, they should not be. Another function of your literature review is to identify the variables that you must work with. You may add your own thoughts and experiences. You may hypothesize new relationships that are not expressly found in the literature, but you MUST place those new thoughts in the context of the available literature by articulating the thoughts and information from the literature that spurred your creativity and departure from evidence.


Now that you have the EBP and the science articulated, you are ready to set up the monitoring mechanism that will record the results of your experiment—the implementation of your program activities. Again, options for monitoring and methodologies are available within the professional and scholarly literature. Review the methodologies to find an evaluation or research design that fits your capability and your program. You will also need to determine a theoretical framework that organizes your monitoring.

A theoretical framework is a standardized approach to the goals you have outlined in your program. Three typical options exist in program development. You are either attempting to increase something, decrease something, or satisfice—meet a certain threshold. Overall, every program is about change. Therefore, you will want to adopt a change model that outlines the process that is expected. This outline will further enhance your efforts to monitor outcomes. The outline identifies items to look for in the execution of your program activities. Because the method and the theoretical framework involve a characteristic perspective on your program and problem, it is important to realize the bias that certain methods and theoretical frameworks assume.

[Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW]