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CP TIG Week: Moving our Field: Toward Theory, Systems, and Dynamic Methods by Carissa Coleman and Leonard Jason

Greetings!  Welcome to the Community Psychology TIG Week!  I, Carissa Coleman, a Community Psychologist from James Bell Associates as well as the other members of the TIG Leadership Team, welcome you to a week of Community Psychology and our influence in evaluation work.

Our Community Psychology ideals spread across many disciplines including psychology, social work, education, medicine, and all types of prevention work.

We invite you to visit our website at http://comm.eval.org/communitypsychology/home/ to learn more.

Moving our Field: Toward Theory, Systems, and Dynamic Methods

As a Community Psychologist, I, Leonard A. Jason from DePaul University, would like to offer three ideas that have the potential to energize and transform our field. They involve theoretical perspectives, appreciation of the complexities of the natural world, and dynamic methodological tools that can be used to capture these complex processes.

Many of us work in the field of evaluation to better understand the relationship between people and their contexts in ways that might alleviate human suffering.  Yet, as argued in a recent special issue on Theories in the Field of Community Psychology, the ideological nature of our work that prioritizes efforts to improve people’s lives can result in less willingness to consider the possible contribution of theory.  I am not arguing that our work will coalesce around only one theory, but I believe there has been an unfortunate reluctance to attempt to develop predictive theory, in part because it is seen as a distraction from taking action. However, there is no obvious reason why sound theory cannot be developed that increases the effectiveness of our social action efforts and accomplishes our goal to better understand the complexities of people and groups living within multifaceted ecosystems.

Theory must contend with a natural world that is endlessly beautiful and elegant, but also one that often feels mysterious, unpredictable, and filled with contradictions. Dynamic feedback loops are the norm within this organic stew, and as a consequence, our work would be more contextually rich if it transcended reductionistic and simplistic linear cause and effect methods. Theories can help us capture a systems’ point of view, where the reality of the ever-changing world is made up of mutual interdependencies regarding how people adapt to and become effective in diverse social environments.

Rad Resource:  Are there methods that help us conceptualize and empirically describe these transactional dynamics? There are, such as those contained within the Handbook of Methodological Approaches to Community-Based Research, which profiles a new generation of quantitative and qualitative research methods that are holistic, culturally valid, and support contextually- and theoretically-grounded community interventions. Mixing qualitative and quantitative research methods can provide deeper exploration of causal mechanisms, interpretation of variables, and contextual factors that may mediate or moderate the topic of study. Theories and sophisticated statistical methods can help us address questions of importance for the communities in which and with whom we work by capturing the dynamics of complex systems and providing us the potential to transform our communities in fresh and innovative ways.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Community Psychology TIG Week with our colleagues in the CP AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our CP TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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