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Megan Beckett, Sandy Berry, and Kristin Leuschner of RAND Corporation describe a framework approach for transforming research findings into a practical tool for policymakers, parents, and practitioners.

A number of studies in recent years have focused on the role that community-based organizations take in supporting informal learning opportunities among youth in such locations as libraries, parks, museums, and youth centers. While the knowledge gained from these studies is valuable, its benefits have been limited. Institutional barriers and the need to operate in a day-to-day crisis mode have tended to keep practitioners in these organizations from sharing lessons across fields.

For example, small, underfunded community-based organizations serving disadvantaged youth are rarely able to look at what art museum personnel have learned about designing effective informal learning opportunities for their traditionally more advantaged audiences. In turn, most museum educators have not had the opportunity to apply lessons from youth development on how to reduce barriers to participation among disadvantaged youth.

Recognizing the value in synthesizing and disseminating important lessons about informal learning that cut across institutions, the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds is sponsoring RAND to research how youth come to participate in informal learning and how this participation might be expanded. Our approach to this task involves what is known as a framework.¹

What Is a Framework Approach?
The framework approach transforms the key lessons from studies into a practical tool that can be used by practitioners, parents, and policymakers. As illustrated in the figure, there are three main components.

  1. The approach starts with a literature review that cuts across disciplines to identify and synthesize key lessons in the field. This review captures the richness of field experiences, and integrates and synthesizes the range of ideas and lessons found in previous studies drawn from a variety of fields. This review can be supplemented with additional fieldwork, as needed. The result is a clear, practical body of information on informal learning.
  2. The synthesis of key lessons helps us create a behavioral model that provides a more complete understanding of the participation process. The model illustrates the multiple stages of participation and the factors that can influence an individual’s stage. For example, in our model the initial stage of participation focuses on a youth’s inclination to consider participation in informal learning, while the final stage focuses on the experience of participation in a specific program and full engagement in the informal learning process. The model assumes that the effects of a particular set of factors on the decision-making process can be moderated at specific points along the way.
  3. The model is used to provide a set of targeted guidelines that can be used to increase participation. The understanding gained from the interdisciplinary literature review and the model help us to develop guidelines targeted to individuals at different stages of participation. For example, for those youths not yet inclined to think about participating in informal learning, guidelines might focus on how to market the potential benefits of participation. In contrast, for those youths already inclined to participate, guidelines might focus on eliminating barriers by providing transportation for or reducing the costs of participation in a specific program.
Framework approach diagram
Synthesis of lessons from literature and
the field
Behavioral model illustrating stages of partipication
Targeted guidelines

The Framework Approach

Advantages of the Framework Approach
The framework approach offers several advantages:

  • Practitioners and other stakeholders have access to a practical tool that they can apply to their specific needs. They can see where they fit into a complex field and develop more targeted strategies for increasing participation.
  • The synthesis of key lessons from the field provides stakeholders with a clear, practical body of the facts, real-world experiences, and coherent approaches needed to influence participation.
  • The behavioral model offers a systematic and visual means of understanding the factors that can influence an individual’s behavior.

Although the framework draws on lessons learned in the field, it does not “tell you what to do” or try to define every aspect of a complex issue. The model recognizes that an individual’s decision to take a specific action involves a complex mix of attitudes, intentions, constraints, behaviors, and past experiences. The value of this approach lies in its ability to reduce, but not eliminate that complexity by elucidating the distinctions among types of influences on decisions. The approach can help us recognize the important differences between individuals as they go through the decision-making process.

For more information, visit RAND’s website at

¹ McCarthy, K. F., & Jinnett, K. (2001). A new framework for building participation in the arts. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. [Available at:]

Megan Beckett

Sandy Berry
Senior Director, Survey Research Group

Kristin Leuschner
Communications Analyst

RAND Corporation
1700 Main St.
P.O. Box 2138
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
Tel: 310-393-0411

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