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Assessing the Impact: Listening to Multiple Stakeholders

A qualitative focus group approach was deployed to understand participants’ experiences in, and the impact of, the Freedom Enterprises Initiative. Gelmon, Holland, and Spring’s (2018) conceptual framework for assessing civic engagement and service-learning was adopted as the basis for this study. Specifically, it identified a focus on four levels of impact: student, faculty, community, and institutional. Because the educators most directly involved in the project were staff and courtesy faculty, a focus on the impact of those individuals was substituted to the Gelmon, Holland, and Spring’s focus on faculty.

This approach is conceptually similar to Zimmerman et al.’s (2019) approach to analyzing the ripple effects of community engagement to create a roadmap of the large range of impacts that can result from community engagement projects. Namely, through a combination of conversation methods and brainstorming approaches (including a participatory analysis clement), the focus groups drew stakeholders in multiple roles to identify multiple impacts at the individual, organizational, and community levels.

Based on this conceptual framework, a focus group protocol was developed to answer the following research questions:

  • 1. How did participants’ involvement impact them personally? This particular question was further subdivided to focus on the impact on the different groups that were involved in the initiative.
  • 2. How were the organizations involved impacted? This impact included a focus on each of the involved community organizations and both University of Dayton as a whole and IACT specifically.
  • 3. How was the Dayton, Ohio, community impacted by the initiative?

A purposive sample was identified to include members of multiple groups involved who would have rich and well-developed perspectives on the Freedom Enterprises project, including IACT staff members, University of Dayton students, and community partners. Effort was made to also recruit members of the community served by Freedom Enterprises; however, due to a scries of scheduling challenges none participated. This lack of participation posed an important limitation to the study, removing a key source of triangulation in understanding the impact of community engagement initiatives according to the Gelmon, Holland, and Spring (2018) framework. Participants included five University of Dayton students, all of whom had participated in multiple IACT programs including Freedom Enterprises, one IACT staff member (an additional staff member participated as a co-facilitator and note taker), and three members of partner community organizations, including one who served as a courtesy faculty member. One of the University of Dayton students grew up in a Dayton community similar to the East End and “identified with the people” the initiative was designed to serve, which was reflected in the ways that she responded to many questions. Two of the students who participated were also deeply involved in Marianist student programs that they stated influenced their perspectives. The final participant was an external facilitator with experience in focus group-based assessment methods and some knowledge of IACT, but no prior engagement with Freedom Enterprises.

Several design facets were included to support the overall rigor of the project, most of which drew on critical paradigmatic assumptions (Creswell & Miller, 2000). The group interaction was audio recorded and then transcribed, and notes were taken by the insider co-facilitator. The primary external facilitator engaged in reflexive journaling after conducting the group in order to identify how their outsider status and particular intersections of identities may have impacted the group and analysis. The two major insights that emerged from this journaling process were the extent to which their experience as an advocate for Marianist identity on campus helped shape some follow-up questions and how their privilege, particularly related to socio-economic status and as a resident of a wealthy Dayton suburb, affected the lenses through which the protocol was designed, carried out, and how they interpreted responses. In addition, the two facilitators also engaged in peer debriefing, discussing the focus group data from their respective insider and outsider perspectives.

The focus groups also included design facets to introduce some participatory approaches based on Cousins and Whitmore’s (1998) discussion of transformative community participatory evaluation. Participants engaged in a series of short activities throughout the focus group session where they were asked to individually identify what they thought the themes among answers to questions were, and these responses were categorized on large post-it paper. This process functioned as a type of participatory member

Pursuing Social Justice 81 checking, in that the themes resulting from the researchers’ analysis were compared to the participants’ own identified conclusions throughout the analysis process.

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