Linking Evidence and Practice: A Fresh Look at the Core Elements of an Increasingly Diverse Mentoring Landscape

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.38.00 PMBy Mike Garringer

One of the things that we like to do from time to time here at the Chronicle is to tell our readers about big new projects that might impact the way they think about or conduct their work in the future. It’s not very often that something comes along that has the potential to influence how programs throughout the mentoring universe define themselves or implement their services, but work began recently on a project that will be of interest to just about everyone working in the youth mentoring field.

As you know, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership released the 3rd Edition of the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ back in 2009. This version, led by MENTOR in partnership with Jean Rhodes and innovation Research and Training (iRT), differed from its predecessors in that it represented the first time that there had been a purposeful effort to link each of the recommended program practices in the Elements to rigorous evidence from a rapidly-growing body of mentoring research.  One of the most difficult, yet critical, tasks for any field or industry is to codify the research-based best practices that should define how quality programs and services are delivered. Without intentional effort to do this, it becomes almost impossible for a field to produce consistent results, take effective ideas to scale, or maximize the value to constituents. In our case, the 3rd Edition of the Elements allowed the youth mentoring field to finally meld research and practice, defining the activities and actions that were proven to lead to positive outcomes for young people in programs across the nation.

In the five years since the 3rd Edition was released, the mentoring field has continued to expand and diversify. Today we see an ever-growing array of relationships strategies and program models as practitioners find new ways to apply the power of mentoring relationships to youth needs. We’ve also seen an explosion in the volume and quality of mentoring research, as a talented group of new researchers have expanded what we know about programs and how mentors change lives.

In response to this shifting landscape, and with generous funding from the MetLife Foundation, I’m happy to report that work began recently on developing a new 4th Edition of the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring!  MENTOR is once again partnering with the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring (CEBM) and iRT for this revision process. Over the last several months, our team of researchers has been conducting literature reviews and analyzing new research from the field of youth mentoring and beyond. Before the end of the year, we will have an initial draft of the new edition and will begin working with a select Advisory Committee comprised of mentoring service providers, researchers, and representatives from MENTOR’s network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships to finalize this 4th Edition.

There are several things that practitioners in the mentoring field should know about where this project is headed:

  • Although we are infusing this new edition with fresh research and practice wisdom, this is unlikely to be a major overhaul of the Elements as you currently know them. This new edition will mostly provide more detail and clarity around how to best implement key program practices.
  • While the field has continued to diversify, we are still focusing these Elements on practices that will be most applicable across many types of community and site-based programs. Programs that are using highly innovative models or serving particularly niche youth populations will still need to think carefully about how to integrate these evidence-based practices into their work, while also drawing from other applicable research that speaks to their unique program circumstances.
  • For those who are interested in learning more about the new Elements, and who want to get a sneak peek at the content, there will be a half-day Short Course on the 4th Edition offered by CEBM, in partnership with MENTOR, as a pre-conference offering at the National Mentoring Summit in January. So if you are going to be attending the Summit, consider coming in a day early (January 28th) for this opportunity to preview the new Elements and offer feedback that will inform the final version published in the Spring of 2015.

It’s been interesting for our team to start reviewing the current research on mentoring and think deeply about how findings can translate into actionable practices that will speak to the majority of programs in a very diverse field. We’ve experienced both consensus and disagreement while wrestling with questions such as:

  • How can programs of all types apply innovative strategies such as youth-initiated mentoring or rigorous assessment of the quality of matches?
  • What types of background checks and screening practices can best identify sexual predators that try to enter programs?
  • What does new research say about the importance of match length and frequency across radically different program models?
  • Is there research from related fields, such as volunteer management or child psychology, that can improve the consistency and efficacy of mentors?
  • What can fresh research tell us about how to best initiate mentoring relationships so they can be more impactful right off the bat?

For questions like these, we’ve tried to balance the body of evidence with the reality of running a program—the ideal with the practical. We look forward to refining our recommendations over the next few months in response to feedback and engaging the entire mentoring field in the rollout of these new program standards in 2015.

Until then, we’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, let us know your thoughts about:

  • What has worked or not in the current version of the Elements? What are you hoping might change?
  • Are there innovations or trends in mentoring that you think need to be reflected in the new version?
  • Is there a burning question about how your program offers its services that you hope new research can answer?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below and keep checking the Chronicle for updates as this work moves forward.