Abstract: The Role of Stakeholder Engagement in Bolstering the Use of Evidence in Child Welfare Systems (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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The Role of Stakeholder Engagement in Bolstering the Use of Evidence in Child Welfare Systems

Friday, January 13, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Todd Jensen, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Family Research and Engagement Specialist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Allison Metz, PhD, Professor and Director of Implementation Practice, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC
Amanda Farley, Implementation Associate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: Commonly used implementation support strategies, such as didactic training, can significantly (even if inadvertently) limit stakeholder engagement. A relatively unexplored area of implementation support is how stakeholder engagement can influence the effectiveness of implementation strategies used to promote the use of evidence in child welfare systems. For instance, enhanced stakeholder engagement, via strategies intended to understand context and co-creative strategies such as brokering and co-design, might bolster the use of evidence and increase the probability that particular evidence will be used that is contextualized, relevant, and sustainable. This goal of this study was to better understand the extent to which implementation support processes are bolstered by stakeholder engagement in child welfare systems.

Methods: A purposive sample of 17 highly experienced implementation support practitioners (ISPs) participated in in-depth interviews. A semi-structured interview guide was used to ascertain participants’ perceptions about various aspects of their work providing implementation support, particularly in Child Welfare systems. Interviews were conducted via Zoom and were approximately 60 minutes in length. Following the verbatim transcription of interviews, we analyzed our data using a qualitative content analysis approach as outlined by Schreier (2014). The analysis for the current study focused on subcategories related to the larger category of stakeholder engagement and its role in implementation support processes intended to promote the use of evidence in child welfare systems. A multi-researcher team engaged in data coding and analysis in an effort to triangulate observations and maintain consensus with respect to emerging findings.

Results: Respondents explicitly commented on the importance of engaging stakeholders in the context of providing implementation support, using descriptors like “critical” and “essential.” In general, stakeholder engagement was conceptualized as a necessary (but not always sufficient) mechanism by which stakeholders of all sorts could develop buy-in, share perspectives, and begin trusting the ISP and their efforts to propagate evidence use to benefit service delivery. Respondents also emphasized the importance of stakeholder engagement due to its ability to facilitate shared understanding between ISPs and implementation support recipients, with opportunities to gain insight about the complex realities within which organizational leaders, staff, and service recipients operate. Respondents also highlighted (a) specific types of stakeholders with whom they seek to engage, (b) the value in role clarity, (c) the foundational nature of stakeholders’ capacity to engage, (d) the view that engagement should be conducted early and often, and (e) a variety of challenges related to engaging stakeholders well.

Conclusions and Implications: Respondents described conditions and capacities related to robust and meaningful stakeholder engagement, highlighting the key role of funders and public systems in supporting equitable partnerships and organizational/individual readiness to engage. Respondents also noted constraints related to engagement when funders and key partners don’t provide incentives for this work to happen, and, in fact, discourage it through tight deadlines and siloed conversations. ISPs can be most effective in their role when conditions allow for the co-creative work needed to address power differentials and co-design implementation strategies that will lead to equitable use of evidence.