On April 16-18, SAMHSA’s Service to Science initiative delivered the virtual orientation series Native American Service to Science Evaluation Primer Series to representatives from five community-based programs developed by and for Native peoples. Created in collaboration with SAMHSA’s Native American Center for Excellence (NACE), the three-part webinar series is designed to prepare these programs for participation in Service to Science, a national initiative dedicated to strengthening the capacity of innovative, locally developed programs to demonstrate and document evidence of their effectiveness in impacting substance use in a behavioral health context. This is particularly important in Native communities, which are disproportionately affected by substance abuse and for which few culturally specific prevention programs have documented and shared their evidence of effectiveness.
To develop the series, the Service to Science team partnered with NACE to expand on an existing orientation series developed for state-nominated programs serving diverse populations. Both series encourage participants to think through ways to make evaluation more feasible and useful, consider evaluation issues or gaps worth addressing, and clarify questions they may want to address during the upcoming year. However, a key difference in the Native primer is how it approaches the definition of “evidence-based.”
Tehout Selameab, Service to Science Lead for the Central Resource Team of SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, which administers the initiative, explains: “One of the biggest challenges in adapting this webinar series was to bridge the gap between what SAMHSA, as a federal agency, considers evidence of effectiveness and what tribes—who may or may not subscribe to a readily quantifiable, scientific approach—consider evidence. We want Service to Science participants to understand the federal funder’s definition of what it means to be evidence-based, and to acknowledge that there are other ways of knowing that a program is effective.”
Adela Santana, Service to Science Lead for the CAPT Southeast Resource Team, agrees. “‘Evidence-based’ can mean very technical things like evaluation using research methods with assignment to control and intervention groups. But it can also be a set of activities, traditions, or practices that communities have used and have determined through experience to yield positive effects.”
This openness to a variety of definitions of “evidence based” is part of a larger effort by Service to Science and NACE to encourage fruitful dialogue and “help replicate that in-the-room atmosphere of a face-to-face meeting,” says Service to Science Chief Kim Dash. Other enhancements included a traditional opening and closing led by David Brave Heart, who facilitated the webinars, and time set aside to introduce each of the Service to Science TA Providers and share aspects of their work that they find particularly meaningful.
The Native American Service to Science Evaluation Primer Series was delivered to 17 program representatives from this year’s four Service to Science tribal programs:
- Doorway to a Sacred Place (Anchorage, Alaska)
- Date But Wait (Tahlequah, Oklahoma)
- Gathering of Native Americans in Urban Areas (Washington, D.C.)
- Sowing the Seeds of Recovery (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan)
The Service to Science and NACE teams brought significant expertise to the development of the primer. “The people who worked on it brought very complementary skills to the work,” says Selameab. “It showed us how robust our team is.” While evaluations are still to be completed, participants overall were pleased with the event and found it helpful. “They appreciated the content and approach of the webinars,” she says. “They’re prepared to tackle the work ahead.”