To improve service outcomes and spur innovation, private child welfare agencies (PCWAs) are increasingly seeking to support research evidence (Chuang, Collins-Camargo, & McBeath, 2017). However, little is known about PCWAs’ strategic investments in evidence use. Informed by organizational and implementation research on evidence use conducted in healthcare settings, specific supports of interest include: (a) technical infrastructure (data systems and/or tools to promote access to/use of evidence); (b) knowledge management infrastructure (staff and agency resources for building research capacity); (c) strategic alignment (policies, practices, and/or leadership efforts to establish culture and climate prioritizing evidence use); and (d) linkage and exchange efforts (ties to external partners that assist with acquiring, assessing, and/or applying evidence to decision-making). The current study describes types of supports being used by PCWAs and examines contextual and organizational factors associated with their use.
An electronic survey was administered to executive-level managers of 414 PCWAs in six states. Administrators from 219 agencies responded (53%). Hierarchical cluster analysis was used to categorize agencies into mutually exclusive clusters, based on similarity on the four organizational support categories. Visual inspection of clusters and their distance measures as well as pseudo-F and pseudo-t2 statistics were used to select well-defined clusters. Predictive discriminant analysis was used to validate the cluster solution. Multinomial logit and logit models examined contextual and organizational factors associated with cluster membership. Informed by resource dependence and institutional theories as well as the strategic management literature, factors of interest included competition, funding sources, accreditation, institutional pressures for evidence use (e.g., government policies, funding requirements), organizational size, membership in a larger network, service diversity, and leader activities.
Cluster analysis identified a five-cluster solution. Cluster 1 included PCWAs with above-average technical infrastructure but below-average use of other supports. These agencies had highly diverse service arrays and limited leader boundary-spanning activity. Cluster 2 included PCWAs with above-average technical infrastructure and strategic alignment but limited knowledge management infrastructure or linkage and exchange efforts. These agencies were large, with highly diversified service arrays, and reported above-average leader boundary-spanning activity and above-average competition with public child welfare agencies. Cluster 3 included smaller PCWAs with below-average investment in all organizational supports and low institutional pressures for evidence use. Cluster 4 included larger PCWAs with above-average technical infrastructure and linkage and exchange efforts but below-average knowledge management infrastructure, and high institutional pressures. Cluster 5 was comprised of PCWAs reporting above-average use of all organizational supports for evidence use. These agencies were smaller, offered less diverse services, and reported high percentage of child welfare revenue.
Study findings suggest that PCWAs may vary considerably in their organizational supports for evidence use. Findings suggest that contextual factors (e.g., competition), institutional pressures, and organizational factors are associated with differential investment in such supports. Management implications concern the strategic importance of tailoring various organizational supports to enhance service enhancement and program innovation. Research implications concern how PCWAs finance and sustain these supports, and how they inform evidence use by staff at different levels of the agency.