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Building Organizational Capacity for Research in Early Intervention

Briana L. Rigau, Jodi Dooling-Litfin, Elizabeth Scully. Catherine Killian, Gail Fisher, Beth McManus, and Mary A. Khetani


This article outlines a quality improvement (QI) initiative to build organizational capacity for engagement in research and evidence-based practice in early intervention (EI). The authors describe the implementation of online learning modules, a writing group simulation, and the launch of a writing group fellowship with service coordinators and their supervisors in a community EI program. The findings of these efforts are promising and indicate that implementing this QI initiative has the potential to improve practitioner capacity for engaging in research within EI, which may be beneficial for building research culture within EI, as well as advancing EI practice and scholarship.

Federal and state policies require early intervention (EI) programs to collect statewide child and family outcomes for the purposes of demonstrating EI accountability and efficacy (Bruder, 2010). In addition, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires EI to provide services that are evidence-based. However, EI programs experience challenges with collecting valid and reliable statewide outcomes data and incorporating evidence-based practices into EI care (Bruder, 2010).

One way that EI programs can address these challenges is through mutually beneficial research partnerships that help to demonstrate EI efficacy and improve EI care quality. However, consistent with Bruder (2010), we have learned firsthand that there is a lack of consistent opportunities across EI programs for practitioners (e.g., service coordinators, supervisors, direct service providers) to build the knowledge and skills needed for meaningful engagement in research.

Since 2014, we have partnered with two EI programs on a research project to help them improve their delivery of family-centered care. One of the aims of this project was to examine the feasibility, acceptability, and value of implementing electronic patient reported outcomes (e-PROs) into the workflows of service coordinators (Rigau et al., 2018). While we had successfully piloted a standard research protocol for conducting this project at a neighboring, university-affiliated EI program (Khetani et al., 2018), we were unsuccessful in using the same approach with service coordinators at Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS), a larger and non-university affiliated EI program. In fact, only 5 out of the 22 service coordinators successfully recruited families (Rigau et al., 2018). While the university-affiliated EI program had extensive research experience, RMHS had little to no prior research experience.

In addition, service providers rather than service coordinators recruited families during the pilot study (Khetani et al., 2018). Differing levels of research experience likely contributed to the difficulties RMHS service coordinators had with research engagement. RMHS service coordinators cited unmet training needs as a key barrier to their ability to enroll families in the project (Rigau et al., 2018). Although service coordinators at RMHS undergo training and orientation related to their job duties and the EI system, they currently receive no on-the-job research process or engagement training (J. Dooling-Litfin, personal communication, August 2017).

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