Research in Action

The Ceres Institute for Children and Youth

Community-Engaged Research & Evaluation Science

Community-engaged research and evaluation is premised on the fundamental idea that communities (individuals, organizations, agencies) have legitimate and intimate understandings of their assets, needs, values, and activities.

Our Approach
The CERES Institute believes that by working in authentic partnership with communities, co-constructing questions and methods, and interpreting data together, we can create the practical knowledge and tools that can solve locally relevant problems.

This perspective is inherent in who we are as community-engaged researchers and evaluators. Our set of beliefs frame our engagements – guiding us in what is central to our work (young people at the center) and the methods of understanding and designing what is needed to be done – to optimize the life trajectories of young people.

Why evaluate? Learning to improve.
Conducting an evaluation can provide the information that decision-makers (practitioners, policymakers, funders) need to sustain or strengthen their efforts to support and work with children and youth.

The point of an evaluation is not just about whether a program worked at one time, with one group of young people, in one location – no matter how much a funder or policymaker wants that information.

Time, people, and places change, and so inevitably will the impact of a program. Instead, an evaluation effort should develop the capacity of an organization to make more informed decisions over time to continually improve.

The knowledge gained from an evaluation can also provide insights to other decision-makers on the strategies that have the best chance of showing impacts.

In contrast, evaluations (and applied research) have traditionally been focused on “does it work” purposes:

  1. to test whether a particular program is currently working in a particular place(s) and with a particular population(s);
  2. to examine ways to strengthen an existing program in an existing context with an existing population; and
  3. to understand whether a particular program with a particular population at a particular time can be translated to a different place with a different population at a different time (i.e., replicating or scaling programs).

Using a continuous improvement framework, the CERES Institute is not pursuing these “does it work” purposes with our partners. Instead, we are pursuing questions about “how, when, and why” to improve young people’s lives.

This is a paradigmatic shift, moving from a focus on “does participating in x program lead to y impact,” to a focus on understanding the progress on achieving a given outcome and the process for how that progress is being made.

We believe this latter focus is the best way forward for children, youth, and families; placing the emphasis on striving to optimize outcomes for young people and their families, not solely to prove the efficacy of a particular program at a particular time.

By taking this continuous improvement tact, we can increase the probability that all young people can achieve their potential.

Current Initiatives

Relationship-Focused Schools Initiative

Relationship-Focused Schools Initiative

In partnership with MENTOR (the National Mentoring Partnership), CERES Institute is working with a set of school districts on how they can develop a “relationships strategy” for their schools. CERES Institute will serve as a research and evaluation partner for MENTOR during this three-year initiative.

read more
Choices and Challenges

Choices and Challenges

In Florida, thanks to a robust school choice environment, parents of students with disabilities have access to several educational options through two specific statewide scholarship programs. To shed light on how parents utilize these scholarships, a team of researchers from CERES Institute for Children and Youth, in partnership with the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, share findings from a mixed-methods study, conducted between fall 2020 to spring 2021, as well as implications for policy and practice.

read more
Debate-Inspired Classrooms Learning Plan

Debate-Inspired Classrooms Learning Plan

How can Debate-Inspired Classrooms better engage students as leaders in their own learning? The CERES Institute for Children & Youth is partnering with the Boston Debate League and Boston Public Schools’ Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion School to answer this question and more.

read more
Evaluation of the Department of Youth Services’ YES Initiative

Evaluation of the Department of Youth Services’ YES Initiative

The CERES Institute for Children & Youth is examining how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Youth Services’ Youth Engaged in Services Initiative – the YES Initiative – provides voluntary individualized supports to youth involved with the juvenile justice system and the impact of the YES Initiative on youth recidivism rates.

read more
The Center for Promise

The Center for Promise

The Center for Promise is the applied research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, housed at Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Its mission is to develop a deep understanding of the conditions necessary for young people in the United States to succeed in school and life.

read more