AmeriCorps Research & Evaluation Digest: Perspective from Mary, ASN Infographic, Grantee Spotlights, and more


Office of Research and Evaluation Digest
March 2021

The Beginning of Something New

On January 20, we welcomed a new President to the White House. Like any new administration, more changed than just the names on the doors. President Biden’s administration quickly asserted its priorities for the U.S. government, including uplifting underserved communities, fostering racial equity, promoting economic opportunities, and managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

For AmeriCorps, this doesn’t represent a shift in priorities though; it’s more like a doubling down. For years, the Office of Research and Evaluation has addressed many of these pressing needs by supporting research on civic engagement and volunteering, as well as our AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors grantees that are building evidence about their programs and interventions. We’re infusing data into programs that bolster our understanding of national service, while also identifying frameworks for duplicating and scaling successful support structures.

As we kick off this new year, I encourage everyone to approach their projects with the same vigor we’ve demonstrated in the past. In partnership with all of you, I know we will continue to accomplish great things this year.

-Mary Morris Hyde, PhD, Director, Office of Research and Evaluation

AmeriCorps State and National: Taking Service Grants to the Next (Evidence) Level

At the heart of all AmeriCorps programs is evidence – the data and reporting that measures program performance. With evidence, AmeriCorps is able to measure program efficacy, expand the list of effective programs, demonstrate efficient use of federal funding, reach more people, and increase the understanding of the role of national service.

Since 2017, our competitive grant funding in the AmeriCorps State and National (ASN) program has increasingly invested in programs that demonstrate moderate or strong levels of evidence. Learn more about how we maximize the impact of federal dollars by supporting effective programs.

Illustrated chart of ASN investments


View Infographic

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Research Grantee Spotlight  Drexel University 

The Drexel community—like many other communities—is facing the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their research team used this time to find new, innovative ways to execute the core tenets of their research project: Anti-displacement: The Untapped Potential of University-Community Cooperative Living

In early April 2020, community partner and co-researcher De'Wayne Drummond, president of the Mantua Civic Association, requested the research team address two issues from the pandemic impacting neighbors most: food insecurity and isolation of seniors living alone.  In response, the research team continued to collect and analyze data on storytelling and its ability to build connection while also expanding the scope of the project to examine how an intergenerational cooperative can build a larger care network and reduce disruption and disconnection. They are exploring what community engagement will look like if social distancing continues, and how to communicate effectively and compassionately as a group of neighbors.

Ongoing research and community engagement includes distributing Chromebooks with youth and senior researchers, tech support for older members and participants, porch and stoop visits, phone check-ins, and weekly sessions with the full team, ages 18-80. Second Story Collective has more information about this work.

Thank you to Drexel’s Ayana Allen-Handy, Ph.D., and Rachel Wenrick for contributing to this story.

Grantee Profile

Research Grantee Project Updates

Our grantees are using research and evidence to communities across the country. See what they have been up to:

  • Two University of Denver grantees recently published articles on peer support specialists helping young people and navigating power and values on participatory action research (2018 awardee). 2017 cohort awardees created a video to describe the experiences of many young people without stable housing.
  • Carleton College developed a website about participatory action research with information in English, Spanish, and Somali. You can also read about the AmeriCorps Faribault project in all three languages.
  • California State University-San Marcos highlighted its mixed-method study on volunteering and civic engagement among Latino elders in a new video.
  • University of Wisconsin-Whitewater helped develop the Hmong Language Resource Hub to create and share linguistically and culturally sustaining curriculum materials that connect school classrooms and the community.
  • University of Texas-Austin published a paper on how understanding the role of emotion can help nonprofit organizations attract and engage volunteers.
  • Tufts University published an article about community use of creative engagement to envision an arts and innovation district without displacement in Boston’s Upham’s Corner.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech’s Martinsville ‘Raising Awareness’ topic team created this video and published the first official review of “Researching Health Together”.

Find Profiles Online

Illustrated calendar

Save the Date: Research and Evidence Webinar- Power Analysis for Program Evaluation: An Introduction

Tuesday, March 30, 2:30–4 p.m. ET 

Have you ever wondered how large of a sample size you need to obtain reliable evaluation evidence? Or wondered what statistical power means? This introductory class discusses the concept of statistical power and explains why it’s an important tool for evaluation planning. Power helps estimate the sample size requirements for obtaining reliable evidence of program impacts in outcome and impact evaluations. Reliable evidence is the basis for program improvement, evidence building, and replication and scaling. 

This class will be the first in a series of three on statistical power which will be available on the Impact Webinar webpage.

Register Today

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AmeriCorps’ Return on Investment (ROI) Studies

National service is not only transformative for members and volunteers, but also translates into better lives neighbors and community members while providing potential cost savings to local, state, and national budgets.

The AmeriCorps Office of Research and Evaluation has commissioned a series of ROI assessments to allow program investigators to best leverage investments, findings, and knowledge base to inform decision-makers and the public about our agency’s national service footprint and impact. The analysis also demonstrates the value of social sector benefits from national service to communities relative to investments made. The following assessments are currently complete:

For an additional support resource focused on understanding the work presented in the reports, please join ORE and our research partner, ICF, in a recorded training about the ROI studies.

Lessons Learned from the Social Innovation Fund: Evaluation Technical Assistance 

The Social Innovation Fund was a federal-tiered evidence initiative that received funding from 2010 to 2016. The key objectives of the initiative were to invest in:

  • Promising interventions that address social and community challenges and grow their impact.  
  • Evaluation and capacity building to support the development and use of each funded intervention as well as to inform decision making.

AmeriCorps developed a comprehensive Evaluation Technical Assistance package organized around a flexible coaching model for these grantees (mainly large non-profits) and subgrantees (mainly smaller nonprofits) that included individual consultation and customized resource development for conducting evaluations.

In December 2020, our office published a peer-reviewed article on this fund’s Evaluation Technical Assistance. The article, “Lessons from the Social Innovation Fund: A Test Evaluation Technical Assistance Approach to Strengthening Evaluation Practice and Building a Body of Evidence,” discusses the structure and key features of the fund as a grant-making model, its evaluation requirements, embedded approach and process for evaluation capacity building, and the delivery of the ETA.

Learn more

Research and Evidence Webinar Recording Available: Youth Interventions at Work

A November 2020, webinar showcased AmeriCorps’ research and evaluation investments in youth interventions that touch a variety of issues. We heard from four youth-focused Social Innovation Fund programs who shared lessons learned and how interventions expanded the evidence and development of different research methods to make an impact within their communities.

Watch the webinar to learn more.

Watch Webinar

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