Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work and Social Research


Notwithstanding considerable debate about the meaning of evidence-based practice (EBP), its utility, and the credibility of the evidence on which it relies, EBP has gained a great deal of currency in U.S. policy and practice fields. At the same time, little attention has been focused on how leaders operating within the social welfare system engage with the concept: How do they grapple with its diverse meanings and specifications, and how do they make it meaningful to themselves and the organizations they lead? Even less attention has been paid to meaning making among those engaged in the specialized practice of leading community coalitions.

This study aims to help fill this void by exploring these questions: Are community coalition leaders familiar with the term EBP; and, if so, how were they introduced to it? How – in their own words – do leaders define EBP? What beliefs, knowledge, and actions help leaders shape EBP’s meaning and bring the concept to life? What forces motivate leaders to do so? And, which organizational contexts propel EBP’s advance?

An Internet-based survey grounds this work: 518 leaders – all associated with multisector coalitions dedicated to strengthening services and life conditions for children – were invited to participate. Two hundred and seventy-two leaders (53%) submitted surveys; 46% provided responses to the survey’s central questions.

Three meta-findings emerged: (1) Leaders largely frame EBP in narrow terms (i.e., as a practice or set of practices or interventions); (2) There are strong intrinsic and extrinsic forces motivating leader engagement with EBP; and (3) Many participants report that they are operating in the type of organizations that scholars argue are optimal hosts for EPB – that is, organizations dedicated to learning and evaluative inquiry.

Although a strong majority of participants believe that EBP “is here to stay,” findings give credence to claims that challenges posed by inexact or competing definitions of EBP continue to cause confusion and, further, suggest that the work of defining the term remains incomplete. Ensuring that EBP’s promise is not overtaken by bold claims made on its behalf makes the task of further refining its conceptual foundations an urgent one.


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