Toward a Science for and of the People: Promoting Civil Society Through the Application of Developmental Science

Richard M. Lerner; Celia B. Fisher, and Richard A. Weinberg


ADS is scholarship that seeks to significantly advance the integration of developmental science with actions that address the pressing human problems of our nation and world. As such, a key intended impact of applied developmental research is the enhancement of the life chances of the diverse individuals, families, and communities served by such scholarship.

The growing interest and activity in applied developmental science (Eccles, 1996; Fisher, Murray, & Sigel, 1996; Hetherington, 1998; Horowitz & O’Brien, 1989; Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 1997, in press; Takanishi, 1993) come at a propitious time in the history of academic and civic concern with the quality' of human life and development. The latter part of the 20th century has been marked by public anxiety about a myriad of social problems—some old, some new—affecting the lives of vulnerable children, adolescents, and their families (Fisher & Murray, 1996; Lerner, 1995; Lerner & Galambos, 1998). For instance, America faces a set of problems of historically unprecedented scope and severity': issues of economic development, environmental quality, health and health care delivery, and, ultimately, of people, of children, youth, and families (e.g., involving poverty, crime, and violence; drug and alcohol use and abuse; unsafe sex; school failure and dropout; lack of immunizations; and poor nutrition). These issues challenge current resources and the future viability of civil society' in our nation (Dryfoos, 1990, 1998; Fisher & Lerner, 1994; Hamburg, 1992; Hernandez, 1993; Huston, 1991; Schorr, 1988, 1997).

As it has evolved from its roots in (1) contextual philosophy of science (Pepper, 1942), (2) emphases placed on application that characterized the early scientific history of developmental psychology (Cairns, 1998; Sears, 1975), (3) developmental theories focused on the dynamics (or system) of organism—context relations (Lerner, 1998a, 1998b), (4) the lifespan view of human development (Bakes, 1987; Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998; Baltes, Staudinger, & Lindenberger, 1999), and (5) the bioecological approach to human development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979;

Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998), ADS has become a key intellectual tool for scholars concerned with using their research to address issues of moment to people outside the academy. In addition, ADS has become an exemplar of how university faculty may merge scholarly and community interests in the context of higher education institutions striving to become vehicles of community engagement, that is, institutions making value- added contributions to community life—as the community defines and values such contributions (Kellogg Commission, 1999; Sherrod, 1999a, 1999b; Spanier, 1997; Votruba, 1999). In other words, ADS provides a key means through which “outreach scholarship” may be conducted (Lerner & Miller, 1998).

By providing an intellectual context for integrating the voices and concerns of children, youth, and families with those of research scholars, ADS may become a key means through which behavioral and social scientists, and the universities that employ so many of them, may serve people in the next century (Eccles, 1996). The application of developmental science may thus become the people s science. As such, we believe that ADS will become in the next millennium a means through which scholars and scholarly institutions can join with communities in the maintenance and perpetuation of civil society, that is, the institutions of society (including governmental and nongovernmental organizations, public services, and the public problem solving roles of businesses) that balance the rights “granted to individuals in free societies and the responsibilities required by citizens to maintain those rights” (O’Connell, 1999, pp. 10-11). To explain how the contributions of ADS to civil society' may arise it is useful to specify the components of ADS that we believe are the bases of this contribution.

Developmental Systems Theory and the Merging of Basic and Applied Child Development Research

Across the social and behavioral sciences the contemporary problems of youth and families have been brought to the fore of scholarly concern by growing theoretical interest in developmental systems (Lerner, 1998a) and a resulting empirical focus on the actual ecology of human development as a setting for testing ideas about how, through interventions, scholars may evaluate their ideas about the basic, relational process of human development (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Gottlieb, 1997). Integrating concepts such as individual—environment dialectics (Riegel, 1975, 1976), the ecology of human development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), developmental systems (Ford & Lerner, 1992; Sameroff, 1983; Thelen & Smith, 1998; Wapner & Demick, 1998), developmental contextualism (Lerner, 1991), and the home economics/human ecology vision of integrative (community—collaborative, multidisciplinary, and multiprofessional) scholarship (Bubolz & Sontag, 1993;

Miller & Lerner, 1994), scholars have sought to test ideas about whether altering the nature of the relationships children have within their contexts (with their families, school, or community-based, youth-serving programs) can diminish the problems besetting contemporary youth and their families. This orientation to scholarship underscores the need to conduct research in real-world settings, and highlights the ideas that (1) policies and programs constitute natural experiments, that is, planned interventions for people and institutions (Lerner, 1995); and (2) the evaluation of such activities becomes a central focus of applied developmental research (Fisher et al., 1993; Fisher & Osofsky, 1997; Fisher, Rau, & Colapietro, 1993; Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 2000).

In this view, then, policy and program endeavors do not constitute secondary work, or derivative applications, conducted after basic research evidence has been compiled. Quite to the contrary, policy development and implementation, and program design and deliver)', become integral components of the research. Moreover, the evaluation component of such policy and intervention work provides critical feedback about the adequacy of the person—context, developmental systems framework from which this research agenda should derive. These ideas about the developmental process and the scholarship that elucidates it provide the frame for the set of ideas associated with the field of ADS.

Features of Applied Developmental Science

In 1991, representatives from national organizations concerned with the application of developmental science to societal needs met at Fordham University to identify the scope and activities of ADS and to outline the curriculum and field experiences necessary to produce a new generation of scientist-professionals (Fisher et al., 1993). According to conference participants, ADS involves the synthesis of research and applications to promote positive development across the life span. Applied developmental scientists use descriptive and explanatory knowledge about human development to provide preventive and/or enhancing interventions. The conceptual base of ADS reflects the view that individual and family functioning is a combined and interactive product of biology and the physical and social environments that continuously evolve and change over time. ADS emphasizes the nature of reciprocal person—environment interactions among people and across settings. Within a multidisciplinary approach, ADS stresses the variation of individual development across the life span, including both individual differences and within-person change, and the wide range of familial, society, cultural, physical ecological, and historical settings of human development.

The conferees conceived the ADS orientation as defined by three conjoint emphases (Fisher et al., 1993). The applied aspect of ADS scholarship reflects its direct implication for what individuals, families, practitioners, and policymakers do. The developmental aspect of ADS emphasizes a focus on systematic and successive changes within human systems that occur across the life span. This assumption stresses the importance of understanding normative and atypical processes as they emerge within different developmental periods and across diverse physical and cultural settings. The science aspect of applied developmental science stresses the need to utilize a range of research methods to collect reliable and objective information in a systematic manner to test the validity of theory and application.

The convergence of these three aspects fosters the reciprocal relationship between theory and application as a cornerstone of ADS, one wherein empirically based theory not only guides intervention strategies and social policy but is influenced by the outcome of these community activities (Fisher, et ah, 1993). ADS has a vital role to play, then, in the crafting of a social system that uses ecologically valid knowledge to inform societal actions aimed at promoting positive development in children and families. In other words, by engaging policy and program initiatives in communities ADS may contribute significantly to the information used to promote civil society in our nation. It may come to epitomize, then, the way that university scholarship can engage the community in ways that add value to the lives of Americas citizens.

Engaging the Developmental System Through Applied Developmental Science

These views of scholarship and of its import for benefiting society' have provided intellectual grounds to call for the application of developmental science (Fisher et ah, 1993; Lerner & Fisher, 1994; Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 1997), have created a burgeoning interest in “outreach scholarship” (Eccles, 1996; Kennedy, 1999; Lerner & Simon, 1998), and, at the abstract level of developmental metatheory, have fostered a scholarly' challenge to prior conceptions of the nature of the world (Overton, 1998; Valsiner, 1998).

The idea that all knowledge is related to its context has promoted a change in the typical ontology within current scholarship; that is, a focus on “relationism” has helped advance the view that all existence is contingent (Overton, 1998) on the specifics of the physical and social cultural conditions that exist at a particular moment of history (Pepper, 1942). As a consequence, changes in epistemology have been associated with this revision in ontology: contingent knowledge can only be understood if relationships are studied. Accordingly, any instance of knowledge (e.g., the core knowledge of a given discipline) must be integrated with knowledge of (1) the context surrounding it; and (2) of the relation between knowledge and context.

Thus, knowledge that is disembedded from natural or societal contexts (e.g., laboratory-based science) provides only one source ofbasic knowledge

(Bronfenbrenner, 1977). Knowledge that is relational to its context, for example, to the community as it exists in its ecologically valid setting (Trickett, Barone, & Buchanan, 1996), is also basic knowledge. In addition, knowledge is not just defined by scientist-derived data. Social/behav- ioral scientists must learn to integrate what they know with what is known by the community. We believe this view implies that a learning collaboration between scholars and community members must become a part of the knowledge generation process (Eccles, 1996; Erickson & Weinberg, 1998, 1999; Fisher, 1997; Higgins-D’Alessandro, Fisher, & Hamilton, 1998). New methods, often involving qualitative procedures, may prove especially helpful in enabling scientists to understand community-based knowledge (Burton, 1991; Jarrett, 1998). Scholar-community collaborations increase the capacity of community members to develop knowledge about how to envision, enact, and sustain systematic actions (i.e., programs) consistent with their values.

In providing this collaborative knowledge, scholars are making, by definition, value-added contributions to the community; they are promoting social justice by facilitating the development and utilization in the community of abilities (i.e., power) to take action pursuant to controlling the future of community members’ individual and collective lives. Brought to scale, this empowerment institutionalizes the democratization on which civil society depends (Bruyn, in press; O’Connell, 1999).

In short, to enhance the ecological validity of their scholarship, and to provide empowerment based on increased capacity among people, applied developmental scientists are trying to both understand and serve society with synthetic research and intervention activities. These scholars seek to work with the community to define the nature of research and program design, delivery, and evaluation endeavors. Thus, applied developmental scientists seek ways to apply their scientific expertise to collaborate with and promote the life chances of the people participating in developmental scholarship. Here the key challenge is to include scientifically rigorous evaluations—with formative, outcome/impact, and empowerment components—as part of the day-to-day operation of programs (Fetterman, Kaftarian, & Wandersman, 1996; Higgins-D’Alessandro et al., 1998; Jacobs, 1988; Ostrom, Lerner, & Freel, 1995; Weiss & Greene, 1992).

This community—collaborative linkage between scholarship and value- added service is encompassed by the concept of outreach scholarship, or the scholarship of engagement (Boyer, 1990, 1994; Kellogg Commission, 1999; Spanier, 1997, 1999). Outreach scholarship offers an approach to applied research that—at least insofar as such research addresses issues of problem behavior amelioration, problem prevention, or positive behavior/health promotion—is attracting the increasing interest of both policymakers (e.g., Kennedy, 1999; Thompson, 1999) and the private (Overton & Burkhardt, 1999; Sherrod, 1999b) and public funders (Jensen, Hoagwood, & Trickett, 1999) of such work.

Using ADS to Move From Efficacy to Outreach Research

Jensen et al. (1999) describe two distinct models of research pertinent to the promotion of positive youth development that have been pursued through grants provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH, e.g., NICHD, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, or NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health). The first model—and the one that has been predominant in American social and behavioral science—is termed by Jensen et al. the “Efficacy Research” model. The key question addressed by research conducted within the frame of this model is: What works under optimal, university-based, research conditions?

Studies designed following this model are aimed at determining what is maximally effective under “optimal” (i.e., university-designed, as opposed to “real-world”) conditions in regard to (1) preventing the onset of behavioral or emotional problems, (2) ameliorating the course of problems after their onset, and (3) treatment of problems that have reached “clinical” severity'. Jensen et al. note that the results of the studies conducted within the frame of this model allow the conclusion that efficacious preventive interventions for several high risk behaviors and/or outcomes are possible.

However, a second model of research exists, one that has not received the literally' hundreds of millions of dollars of NIH support given to efficacy' research. Indeed, this second model has been rarely and poorly funded. This second model is one of “outreach” research; it is research conducted in “real-world” community settings.

The key question addressed in this model is: What works that is also palatable, feasible, durable, affordable, and sustainable in real-world settings? Jensen et al. (1999) conclude that when this question is asked, the answer in regard to prevention or positive youth development programs is “Very few (if any), indeed.”

Jensen et al. argue that the federal government must move, and is in fact now moving, to support outreach research, to change the answer to the last- noted question to “Many, if not most.” To create this sea-change in the way scholars conduct their research, Jensen et al. recognize that new, more effective partnerships must be created between universities and communities. As we have argued also, Jensen et al. believe that there must be a qualitative change in the way universities interact with communities in regard to research pertinent to identifying strategies to promote positive youth development (see also Eccles, 1996; McHale & Lerner, 1996).

Jensen et al. point out that such new university—community collaborations should be based on several research-related principles in order to be effective. These principles are consonant with the ideas associated with developmental contextualism and include: (1) an enhanced focus on external validity, on the pertinence of research to the actual ecology' of human development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Hultsch & Hickey',

1978) as opposed to contrived, albeit well-designed, laboratory-type studies; (2) incorporating the values and needs of community collaborators within research activities (Kellogg Commission, 1999; Richardson, 1996; Spanier, 1997, 1999); (3) full conceptualization and assessment of outcomes, that is, a commitment to understanding thoroughly both the direct and the indirect effects of a research-based intervention program on youth and their context and to measuring these outcomes; (4) flexibility to fit local needs and circumstances, that is, an orientation to adjust the design or procedures of the research to the vicissitudes of the community within which the work is enacted (Jacobs, 1988; Weiss & Greene, 1992); (5) accordingly, a willingness to make modifications to research methods in order to fit the circumstances of the local community; and (6) the embracing long-term perspectives, that is, the commitment of the university to remain in the community for a time period sufficient to see the realization of community-valued developmental goals for its youth.

The principles of “best practice” articulated by Jensen et al. (1999) may be merged with, or, perhaps better, are built upon those discussed by Chi- bucos and Lerner (1999), Eccles (1996), Lerner and Simon (1998), and McHale and Lerner (1996). These additional principles include: co-learning (between two expert systems—the community and the university); humility on the part of the university and its faculty, so that true co-learning and collaboration among equals can occur; and cultural integration, so that both the university and the community can recognize and appreciate each others perspective.

Moreover, Jensen et al. differentiate between segments of the community with which the university may collaborate. They describe two community groups with whom such scholarship may be enacted: policymakers and the consumers of (participants in) programs. In regard to policymakers, the challenge is to conduct research that is useful to and used by policymakers and, through the creation of such relevance, to empirically ground policies for children and adolescents (Jensen et al., 1999). In turn, Jensen et al. note that youth and families (and other consumers) should be active participants in shaping and evaluating programs, and that the outreach research framing programs should examine the questions of consumers, not just of researchers.

In short, through the conduct of research consistent with the “outreach” frame described by Jensen et al. (1999), the blurring of the distinctions between science and practice in developmental science will be facilitated. This is the convergence that is envisioned in the ADS approach to developmental systems theory. Moreover, such scholarship will provide needed vitality for the future progress of the field of human development and, we believe, for the very viability of the academy (Eccles, 1996; Lerner & Simon, 1998). As such, we envision ADS becoming an exemplar of how scholars and scholarly institutions can contribute to civil society.

Applied Developmental Science and the Future of American Civil Society-

Civil society rests upon integrative contributions by all sectors and institutions of a nation in support of social justice. Such contributions to civil society would assure that there is a “level playing field” for individuals to pursue lives marked by positive and healthy contributions to self, family, and community. To maintain and perpetuate such actions, social functioning that supports civil society must be transformed into public policy.

Applied developmental science may act as an instrument for the promotion of civil society by (1) AIDS-oriented scholars conducting research that engages public policy; and (2) such scholars working to promote in their institutions a sustained commitment to engaging their communities in collaborative actions that merge research and service in support of civil society' (Kellogg Commission, 1999).

Public policies represent standards, or rules, for the conduct of individuals, organizations, and institutions (Bronfenbrenner, 1974). The policies that we formulate and follow structure our actions and elucidate to others how they may expect us to function with regard to the substantive issues to which our policies pertain. Moreover, our policies reflect what we value, what we believe, and what we think is in our best interests; they indicate the things in which we are iiwested and about which we care (Lerner, Sparks, & McCubbin, 1999). ADS research may engage public policy' by ascertaining whether current local, state, and federal policies are supported by' 01- run counter to research evidence and by providing empirical grounding for policies (Jensen et al., 1999). Studies can be made of programs and policies already in place or of the likely impacts of actions that may be developed into policies (Jensen et al., 1999).

If such ADS scholarship and the institutions within which such work is conducted are to contribute to the enhancement and future maintenance of civil society', they must aid policymakers to develop principles 01- strategies—policies—that enable all families to produce children capable of, and committed to, contributing to self and society in a positive and integrated way. In other words, in the superordinate sense of enabling civil society to be maintained and perpetuated, all families with children—no matter what their particular structure may be (e.g., families wherein two biological parents rear children; families wherein stepparents are involved in childrearing; families with adopted children; or single-parent families)—have the responsibility of socializing the next generation in ways that allow children to become productive and committed members of society. Any' society', then, needs to develop rules—policies—that enable such contributions to be made by the diverse families that exist within it (Lerner et al., 1999).

A model of how civil society' is furthered through the family’s effective nurturance and socialization of children is presented in Figure 9.1. This figure summarizes the results of several studies conducted within an ADS- related perspective (e.g., Benson, Leffert, Scales, &. Blyth, 1998; Leflfert

Toward a Science for and of the People 183

A model of a national youth policy

Figure 9.1 A model of a national youth policy: The integration of families, children, and civil society.

et al., 1998; Scales, Benson, Leffert, & Blyth, 2000) as well as the views found in other related scholarly publications (e.g., Benson, 1997; Damon, 1997; Dryfoos, 1998; Lerner et al., 1999; Scales & Leffert, 1999; Schorr, 1997). This literature describes (1) the essential functions required for families to promote positive development in their children; (2) the resources necessary for families to transform their functional characteristics into valued child outcomes; and (3) the elements of these positive youth outcomes, that is, the features of healthy youth development.

Thus, the figure indicates that public policies should be aimed at ensuring that families have the capacity to provide for children boundaries and expectations, fulfillment of physiological and safety needs, a climate of love and caring, the inculcation of self-esteem, the encouragement for growth, positive values, and positive links to the community. The programs that derive from these policies should ensure that the resources that families need to nurture and socialize children in this manner are available. These resources would give children a healthy start, a safe environment, freedom from prejudice and discrimination, an education resulting in marketable skills, and opportunities to “give back” to their communities—to volunteer and serve.

If programs are effective in delivering these resources, several positive developmental outcomes will accrue among children. These outcomes can be summarized by “five Cs”: Competence, Connection, Character, Confidence, and Caring (or Compassion) (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989; Lerner, 1995; Little, 1993). These five attributes represent five clusters of individual attributes—for example, intellectual ability' and social and behavioral skills; positive bonds with people and institutions; integrity' and moral centeredness; positive self-regard, a sense of self-efficacy', and courage; and humane values, empathy, and a sense of social justice, respectively. When these five sets of outcomes are developed in youth, civil society is enhanced through the intergenerational effects these youth initiate in regard to the rearing of subsequent generations of citizens, that is, through the parenting of their own children (Bornstein, 1995).

That is, as indicated in the model displayed in Figure 9.1, the enhancement of civil society' in turn influences the family and the young people reared within it. As young people grow up in families providing the orientation to self and society' displayed in the figure, they will take on the behaviors that the policies and associated programs were designed to inculcate. Thus, the model indicates that the growth of civil society will occur through facilitating the nurturing and socialization function of families.


The developmental systems view of human behavior and development involved in ADS and, more specifically, the historical and developmental ecological conceptions of the individual and the family help reduce the incidence of what Elder, Modell, and Parke (1993, p. 6) term the “blindness to social history' and context” prevalent in much of psychology, and even sociology. To paraphrase them (p. 7), this blindness has conceptualized the child and family as embedded in the atemporal and acontextual realm of abstract developmental theory. This is, to say the least, a curious conceptual stance for a field seemingly focused on change. A developmental systems perspective leads us to recognize that if we are to have in addition to a plausible science of human development an adequate and sufficient one that serves Americas children and families by helping develop successful policies and programs through our scholarly efforts, we must study integratively individual and familial levels of organization in a relational and temporal manner.

Ultimately, we must all continue to educate ourselves about the best means available to promote enhanced life chances among all of our youth and families, but especially among those whose potential for positive contributions to our nation is most in danger of being wasted (Dryfoos, 1990, 1998; Hamburg, 1992; Schorr, 1988, 1997). The collaborative expertise of the research and program delivery communities can provide much of this information, especially if it is obtained in partnership with strong, empowered communities. Policies promoting such coalitions could become an integral component of a national youth and family development policy aimed at creating caring communities with the capacity to further the healthy development of children and families (Jensen et al., 1999; Kennedy, 1999; Overton & Bur- khardt, 1999; Sherrod, 1999a; Spanier, 1999; Thompson, 1999).

Clearly, the key fuel to enable a model for a national youth and family policy to work is one that builds on the existing assets of communities. According to Search Institute (Benson, 1997; Benson et ah, 1998), these iiwolve external (community- and family-based) assets such as social support, empowerment activities, boundary and expectation setting, and facilitation of the constructive use of time by youth, and internal (inculcated, youth-based) assets, such as a commitment to learning, positive values, social competency, and positive identity (Benson, 1997; Scales & Leffert, 1999).

These assets are the current inventory of building blocks for civil society' in America. Accordingly, they' must be employed to build the programs that will be associated with the enactment of the model displayed in Figure 9.1. Facilitation of such program development consists of key operational ways ADS may contribute to civil society—for example, through technical assistance, asset mapping, needs assessment, issues identification, demonstration research, participatory—action research, and evaluation research. In this way, developmental scholars can do what they have been trained to do (i.e., scholarship about the course of human life), but they can do it in the context of collaboration with communities.

These partnerships, if facilitated and rewarded by an engaged university (Kellogg Commission, 1999; Spanier, 1997, 1999), will enable scholars and their community collaborators to enhance social justice and contribute to civil society'. As such, these collaborations will model how universities may be part of a multi-institutional system changing American society by moving it in the direction of greater equity and access to democratizing resources for all its diverse citizens.

Given the enormous, indeed historically unprecedented, challenges facing the families of America, perhaps especially as they strive to raise healthy and successful children capable of leading our nation productively', responsibly', and morally into the next century (Benson, 1997; Damon, 1997; Lerner,

1995), there is no time to lose in the development of such collaborations. America as we know it, and, even more, as we believe it can be, will be lost unless we act now. All the strengths and assets of scholars and universities, of all our institutions and all our people, must be marshaled for this effort. In turn, we will earn, through this application of developmental science, a full partnership with those individuals and institutions building a socially just and civil society for the next millennium.


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