Meeting on Interventions


Would there be interest in a Special Topic workshop/meeting to discuss the assumptions that underly the growing number of well-funded interventions that are being implemented around the world for both children and caregivers?

Obviously these interventions should be based on trustworthy scientific evidence but — in the light of studies such as Gardner et al. (2019) — it seems that this is often not the case. Some interventions are based almost exclusively on samples of people drawn from WEIRD societies: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (Henrich et al. 2010). Such research cannot provide results that are representative of the variety and diversity of people and their family and community practices around the world. Other interventions have been based on research designed and/or conducted in ways that are logistically, technically, theoretically, or ethically problematic.

Among interventions about which questions have recently been raised are the Word Gap program (Sperry et al., 2018) and ‘positive parenting’ programs (Morelli et al., 2018).

A workshop/meeting aimed at examining the intellectual, ethical, and political issues in such interventions could bring together interdisciplinary researchers, policymakers and practitioners (especially those working in the global south, often the target of these interventions).

Gardner, F., Leijten, P., Melendez-Torres, G. J., Landau, S., Harris, V., Mann, J., . . . Scott, S. (2019). The earlier the better? Individual participant data and traditional meta-analysis of age effects of parenting interventions. Child Development, 90, 7-19. doi:10.1111/cdev.13138

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83.

Morelli, G., Quinn, N., Chaudhary, N., Vicedo, M., Rosabal-Coto, M., Keller, H. et al. (2018). Ethical challenges of parenting interventions in low-to middle-income countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 49(1), 5-24.

Sperry, D. E., Sperry, L. L., & Miller, P. J. (2018). Reexamining the verbal environments of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.13072

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This seems an important idea, obviously aligned to several elements of SRCD’s Strategic Plan. Moreover, the issues outlined here have been the focus of an online discussion that has evolved over the past couple of years involving some four dozen scholars from a range of disciplines and various regions in both the global North and South. In the short term, the group’s explorations will be (re-)presented in a Roundtable Conversation at the Baltimore Biennial. More to the point of this suggestion, the group is primed to involve a larger group of researchers, especially from the ‘next generation’. A Special Topic Meeting would be an ideal vehicle for brazening and deepening the conversation about critical future steps.


. . . ideal vehicle for broadening and deepening . . .


This is a really interesting suggestion. Would the idea be to focus specifically on the challenges in taking interventions developed with one population (WEIRD people) and delivering those interventions to another population? I’m curious if there are principles or strategies for adapting interventions?


Excellent question! Others will have more to say/suggest, but for now just this – The whether, how, and why of adapting interventions would surely be part of the agenda, and would include illustrations or case studies drawn from participants’ own experience (both as researchers and policy-makers/practitioners). And for what it’s worth, I’d suggest that part of the discussion be devoted to the question of whether ‘adapting interventions’ is only a ‘strategic’ or technical-design matter (e.g., related to population sampling) . . . or whether it involves, or should involve, a range of other socio-political and ethical considerations.


In general, the record of success in scaling up interventions has been dismal, even among those that “passed” the gold standard randomized control trial. Some have concluded that an RCT is not a useful tool, while others go further to suggest that many of the factors controlled in a trial are precisely those responsible for its lack of success at scale and in other settings. One would imagine that such a workshop would raise epistemological as well as empirical questions related to ethical and effective intervention, the “value” or utility of science and its claim to advance human welfare.


I think a workshop or meeting along these lines might provide a welcome opportunity for voices under-represented in the scientific discourse of research on child development to be heard in an influential forum, notably scholars based in less affluent societies around the world, and scholars with first-hand experience of growing up in conditions of material poverty.

From what I have seen in recent years, the community of scholarship about child development fostered by SRCD is increasingly concerned about the scarcity of such voices within the so-called mainstream of both fundamental and applied research. Moreover, international agencies committed to the promotion of better conditions for child development around the world stand to learn a lot from the kind of discussion that the proposal aims to stimulate.


I think this is a very important topic and also needs to incorporate the causal issues in intervention. Carol noted some of these with RCT’s. RCT’s are great for locating a possible mechanism but horrible about generalizing outside the findings. However, we have a lot of poorly constructed and not well evaluated interventions that are funded and published and it would be good to both have presentations and workshops. Even a "What Works… type of repository that education interventions have.


This can be a terrific small conference! The participation of researchers and community leaders from places receiving interventions who will have their local experiences represented is very important. Contributions from national and international funders and agencies will also be important. The methods used to evaluate interventions often bracket context out, and use mostly quantitative, individual outcome assessments. These are insufficient to understand such intervention programs. It is not unlikely that some combination of local goals and ways of assisting communities, and some strong general findings about what can work may be the best way to assist - yet this is not the approach all too often.


This is a great idea for a workshop/symposium because current, widely used
practices of turning Euro-American psychological assessment tools into
policy-guiding performance norms continues, after some 50 years of criticism,
to be the dominant professional practice. It really needs both critical attention and
the exploration of alternative, more effective, professional practices


This would be a great contribution to the field. The National Academy of Sciences volume on supporting parents of children ages 0-8 called for greater attention to how interventions need to be tailored to local contexts and parents’ values. The research of that volume pointed to the spotty record of interventions that ignore local goals, values, and circumstances. This conference idea would be an important step towards figuring out how information gained with one population and context might (or might not) be tailored to support other populations and contexts.


This quotation below is very true. it will be difficult to draw conclusion from western and rich people while the main people suffering are never contacted or reached. I suggest that if we depend on online research and digital, we will not achieve much. There may be need to visit the areas of need and find out from them the true situation and the way forward. Our understanding are different.
‘Some interventions are based almost exclusively on samples of people drawn from WEIRD societies: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (Henrich et al. 2010). Such research cannot provide results that are representative of the variety and diversity of people and their family and community practices around the world.’


I think this is a great topic. I continue to be amazed at the number of interventions that have been developed for White families/children being adapted for non-White families/children. Those interventions fail and yet they get adapted to countries and populations outside the US as well.


I’m agree with frankskessel about the broadening opportunity, but the Topic is now broad enough if we (academics, fundraisers, policymakers, etc. interested in the topic) do not clarify subtopics or specific interest about logistic, technical, theoretical, ethical and even political issues, related to the Interventions topic. Just an example for this requirement is in the huge IADB ( documents production and recommendations for the Global South to interventions in child development. For many local researchers and academics in South-America the IADB resulted as an only referent for well-oriented and technical-proved interventions. Where are the independent Faculties, Departments and Research Institutions who can discuss and extend the IADB studies? Another example is about WEIRD research. There are no WEIRD children in Global South? Are the Global South WEIRD-Children comparable with Global North WEIRD-Children? How technically and theory-oriented should we compare labs results and field interventions with No-WEIRD children?

I am now doing an RTC in dialogical-book sharing intervention in a very low-income-families sample at Colombia, and I am very interested in this topic but I thought that is really necessary to clarify levels and specific issues for discussion and sharing in Interventions topic for our next SRCD meeting.


We need to enter into a critical dialogue about the global relevance of intervention programs that aim to support the health and well-being of children and families. These programs reflect dominant scientific discourse on good parenting and healthy development that is based on the study of families underrepresented globally. What also concerns me are the expectation - most likely communicated to parents and caregivers - that such programs will promote the economic success of child, family, community, and nation. These types of expectations - which I believe are very difficult to realize - may lead parents and caregivers to make trade-offs that may be problematic for them and family in the short and long term. There is so much to consider, and I agree the ‘juangh’ that we need to narrow our focus or our interests may become intractable.


It might be helpful to elaborate possible themes, as a way of sparking ideas for a meeting focusing on problems (and possible solutions) of applying interventions based in one cultural setting (largely middle class European-heritage) in other settings with their own values and goals and structures for child development. Some of these ideas stem from discussions of an international, interdisciplinary group focused on these issues.

The focus could be “Cultural Diversity, Interventions, and Ethics” – “Who gets to decide about raising children in culturally diverse settings across the globe? What are the roles of science, [what] evidence, culture, policies and [which] institutions in such decision-making?”

There could be discussion of how culture and ethics are related, and how they could be integrated into research on and interventions in the lives of children, families, and communities. This could include

(a) Scientific Issues in Intervention: The reciprocal relationships of theory, research, evidence, policy, and practice

(b) Ethics of Social Intervention: ‘Thinking globally and acting locally’?

And there could be presentations focused on ethics of the research-intervention relationship in culturally diverse settings, with examples of guiding questions and of illustrative case studies.

Are there model examples of family intervention programs that meaningfully respect local values and beliefs? Are there cases where that does not occur?

How can (more) culturally-attuned research and (more) ethnographically understood community expertise about local family practices vis-à-vis children be (more) sensitively and effectively harnessed by NGOs and government agencies seeking to improve families’ lives?

Examples could include issues in implementation of policies and interventions around

Social-emotional Learning (SEL) concepts, measures and interventions

Co-sleeping and Other Family Practices


The Word Gap

Early Science Education

The meeting could have as a goal the development of best practices for ethical research and interventions focused on child, family and community development.

One best practice, for example, would be establishing reciprocal relations of those involve in all ‘sides’ of the intervention.

***Finally, it’s worth emphasizing that a primary purpose of a meeting devoted to these issues and structured along such lines would be to provide significant space for the participation of both younger scholars and those from the Global South.

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What an important and timely topic for a workshop or meeting!

As a cultural anthropologist, having been involved in research on child development cross-culturally for some years with colleagues across several disciplines–beginning with Judy DeLoache, who has been active in SRCD–I have been troubled by the gap I have frequently noted separating anthropologists’ research on children in local communities from psychologists’ research on children in labs on (mostly) US (and some European) campuses. More recently, some interdisciplinary teams have engaged in fertile conversations on just this issue, with some exciting joint publications. Moreover, an online group of some 35 scholars, located in both the global North and global South, and spanning several disciplines, has been conducting such conversations over the past two or so years. An opportunity to transform these productive conversations into a face-to-face workshop or meeting, with additional input from other relevant (especially, junior) scholars, would be invaluable.

Indeed, such a meeting could well have important impacts on international policy-makers eager for input from just such well-grounded and wide-ranging scholars.


I think that the interdisciplinary basis of such a meeting would be a very strong advantage to making progress on questions of intervention. And a plus for SRCD too, in its quest to make the society more interdisciplinary.

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Great ideas! I agree that a meeting on interventions would be very valuable. Perhaps consider defining/broadening the topic to also include enrichment programs. In certain cases, the term intervention may suggest a deficit model. In my experience, some may prefer the term enrichment.


I think a lively conversation about the framing and effects of universalist-styled knowledge is timely and important. Scientific knowledge is moving quickly, but the residues of older ways of thinking sediment themselves in everyday practices and spread globally in ways we have yet fully to understand. How does knowledge move across time and space and shape ordinary modes of interaction in places far from original sites of intervention? What are the ethical and political consequences of the adoption of forms of knowledge predicated on research is specific populations? What are the lasting effects of professional knowledge as it comes to settle in everyday engagements?
The assumptions of some research may have power well-beyond its original intentions, and may come to shape values and practices across terrains of difference. Results may be colonising, freeing, productive, destructive, depending on context and population. The terrains in which we operate are complex and often uneven. People navigate worlds that are shaped by intersecting and sometimes conflicting ideas, histories and practices. Questions circling around how to draw on scientific knowledge at the same time as recognising its power effects have been critical debates in the Global South, both among indigenous populations and marginalised peoples (and of course these categories overlap) for some time now. Clear ethical issues come to the fore.Thoughtful discussion of how they might shape universalist knowledges is important. In South Africa, for example, the recently-released San code of ethics was developed by autochthonous peoples, predicated on historical experience and core social values (both local and constitutionally-derived). It sits in interesting relation to the utilitarian assumptions about the value of research and gives local shape to the constitutional imperative of dignity.
I think it is important to think about how knowledge produced in one site travels and finds its way into local practice. I am thinking here for example of the ways that non-governmental organisations may draw on and implement models from existing scientific research, some of which may be discredited or in question. In an instance I would like to explore, a local and very effective NGO has developed an early childhood development intervention that uses the ‘word gap’ as the basis for engaging with very poor families. It raises critical questions of how we navigate complex ethical terrains and shifting knowledge relations in the pursuit of human well-being.
I also think it would be important to consider how experts are trained. What modalities of local knowledge, values, ethics, conflict resolution, histories are included in the professional training of psychologists, for example. In South Africa, training in psychology is part of the requirements of many professional disciplines, including social work and teaching. What models of the child, the family, relationship, development, values put into play? How reflexive and historically situated are they? To what extent do their assumptions map onto the actually existing worlds of the populations they engage? Do the complexities of cultural ideas and historical wrongs weave into the making of professional knowledge? If so, how?

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