Throughout the bullying prevention world, the phrase, “I have the solution to bullying!” is all too common. As attention to bullying has grown, so have the number of products and tools claiming to reduce or eliminate bullying in schools and communities. But do they work? This question may seem simple, but there are a lot of factors to consider, including the specific situation and context. The same strategies that may see tremendous success in one school might have no effect in another. So how can you identify what will work for you?
The first thing to keep in mind is whether there is evidence that the program or strategy works. Evidence usually means that the program or strategy has been tested or evaluated and has demonstrated results, such as, the program reduces bullying. But not all evidence is equal. Typically, for a program to be considered evidence-based, and appear in an evidence-based program directory, it must have been tested using rigorous, scientific methods and show consistent results, and usually the results of such tests are published in peer reviewed journals. Usually, this means that programs need to be tested measuring an outcome, such as bullying, before the program and after, and comparing a group that received a program to a similar, control group to account for other things that might be going on that may contribute to the outcome.
Many bullying prevention or anti-bullying tools have not been tested or they do not have strong enough evidence to appear in such directories. This does not mean that they don’t work or that they may be harmful, but at the same time, the opposite is also true. Without evidence we can’t say whether a program will work and it may actually have the opposite effect than intended, such as increase bullying.
What if the program you are using is not on the lists or appears on some but not others? Some of the reasons programs may not appear in a list or a directory:
- Every program registry has a different set of standards and may be looking for different set of outcomes.
- Programs that appear on some lists but not others may be more mixed in their findings, which may be something to keep in mind when selecting programs.
- Sometimes programs have been tested, but have either too little or inconsistent evidence to know whether they do in fact work. Some program registries, like CrimeSolutions.gov, maintain a list of programs that have insufficient evidence.
- Finally, some programs do not appear on registries because they simply have not yet been reviewed by those directories.
It’s important to know that these lists do change over time as new evidence is reviewed; programs may be added or reclassified.
Evidence based program directories are only a tool in finding programs that have evidence, but they do not answer the other two important considerations – how well will this program fit in specific contexts and how feasible it will be to implement as intended by the developers. Just because something is an evidence-based program does not mean that it will automatically work in every context. Tools like this worksheet -PDF from Pennsylvania State University’s EPIS Center may help balance evidence, fit and feasibility.
There is no magic solution for bullying, but closely considering available programs and strategies might help you find the right solution for your school or community.
For a more in-depth look at this topic, please view an archived webinar from the Safe and Supportive Schools Technical Assistance Center and the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention.