Brian Saylor, PhD, MPH
Stacy L. Smith, MFA
Program Description: The Parent Networks program was initiated by Mayor Rick Mystrom based on his belief that parents are the only force large enough and caring enough to turn back the disturbing rising tide of juvenile crime in Anchorage. Parent Networks encourage parents to get to know their children’s friends and their children’s friend’s parents to create natural and vital communication links, to form support networks, and to discuss issues of crime and safety with other parents.
These communication links are certainly not sophisticated. Originally, in a few pilot tests, brochures containing a blank telephone list were distributed to the parents of Anchorage high school students. Soon, the program took off like a wild fire, and parents from schools throughout the district were requesting these brochures.
Purpose of the Study: The objective of this evaluation is to learn what factors contributed toward the immediate success of this program, and to identify program improvements to sustain the current high level of enthusiasm.
Through the combined perceptions of focus group members, the evaluators can gather the raw material needed to identify the major attributes of the Parent Networks Program that have gained popularity with the Anchorage community. The information from these focus groups will provide the basis for developing ways to monitor the growth and effectiveness of the Parent Networks Program.
Methodology: The qualitative methods, used in the initial evaluation of the Parent Networks Program, are often more appropriate than quantitative methods during the early stages of an evaluation of a new program. Collecting qualitative data using "naturalistic inquiry" methods allows the important analytic dimensions to emerge from patterns found in the program, without presupposing in advance what these important dimensions will be. This permits the evaluator to make sense of the situation without imposing preexisting expectations.
The use of qualitative methods is especially important for evaluating the Parent Networks Program because the specific goals and outcomes of the project are ill-defined. It is uncertain why it has attained such high visibility and perceived success early in its development.