Research In Action

Research In Action

BTB Team
Getting Creative: An Innovative Approach to Sharing Community-Driven Research Findings
December 8, 2022

Our CHOP-based research team was first introduced to Beyond the Bars (BTB), a music enrichment program for youth in Philadelphia with the mission to interrupt cycles of violence, through Community-Driven Research Day (CDRD) in Winter 2021. Jointly sponsored by several Philadelphia-based academic institutions, including CHOP, CDRD is an annual event that connects researchers with community-based organizations who have research questions they would like to answer to better support their programs and communities. During CDRD, we recognized an opportunity to support BTB Co-Directors Matthew Kerr and Christopher Thornton in their desire to more systematically describe their core program resources and activities and impact on youth participants and their broader community.

Conducting a Community-Engaged Research Project

In line with the community-engaged research model, our newly formed community-academic research team worked together to refine our research questions and the approaches we would use to answer them. We identified key BTB stakeholders and how their voices might best be incorporated—whether as research participants or as part of the research team itself. Ultimately, through this iterative and collaborative process, we developed and were awarded a CDRD-funded grant to address three aims:

  1. To characterize core program components and activities of BTB from the perspectives of youth participants and program instructors
  2. To identify short- and medium-term outcomes youth experienced from participating in BTB programming from the perspectives of youth, instructors, and program partners
  3. To identify personal, contextual, and external factors that youth participants, instructors, and program partners perceive to influence program engagement

We first conducted interviews with three key groups of BTB stakeholders—youth participants, BTB instructors, and community partners. With grant funding, we also added three new valuable members to our community academic research team, Xadyah Holness, Aquil Shakur, and Daniel Jones, who were former youth participants and leaders and now serve as project advisors. Throughout the project they contributed unique perspectives as we developed interview guides and codebooks, interpreted findings, and explored opportunities for dissemination.

Key to Community Engaged Research: An Effective Dissemination Plan

In contrast to traditional academic research, community-partnered work focuses on sharing results in spaces that are relevant and accessible to the intended audience. Planning an effective dissemination strategy that reaches people who would find the work most valuable helped to guide our research decisions throughout the process. To accomplish this, we asked the following questions:

  • Who is our audience? We started by identifying the groups and individuals most likely to find our learnings meaningful. This included current and potential students and their families, community partner organizations, funders, and city leadership.
  • What findings do we want to share? The rich qualitative data from our stakeholder interviews resulted in multiple themes based on the audience and setting. To narrow these down, we reflected on what information the BTB audience would value hearing. We decided to focus our dissemination efforts on the findings that shed light on the impact of BTB, and specifically, the outcomes identified by youth themselves.
  • How can we reach the intended audience in a meaningful way? Above all, we wanted our chosen method to authentically reflect the BTB program. This meant ensuring that we prioritized infusing core program values such as student leadership and music accessibility where possible. Similarly, it was clear that our project’s youth advisors would continue their integral leadership role in this next phase by contributing to the design and development of dissemination products.
Student presentation


Research Dissemination Meets Community Celebration

student presentation

In Spring 2022, we were thrilled to receive internal funding through the CHOP Qualitative Methods Research Affinity Group (Qual RAG), which awards mini grants to support research teams in qualitative methods endeavors, with an emphasis on innovation and community-engagement for the current funding cycle. With this funding, we hosted a community showcase where our research could share the spotlight with talented youth musicians and leaders.

student band

The community event and concert titled “Meaning of the Music: Celebrating the Impact of Beyond the Bars” took place in October 2022 at the current BTB headquarters in West Philadelphia. This celebratory event featured a youth-led presentation highlighting key interview findings on the impact of BTB on students, a gallery walk with quotes from interviewees and accompanying artwork by youth advisor/artist, Xadyah Holness, and a performance by the incredible student band. 

Looking Ahead

The dissemination event required creativity, coordination, and flexibility by all members of the project team and yet, we left feeling re-energized. Over the next few months, we are wrapping up analyses and deliverables to continue to define the BTB program model and elucidate impacts on other key stakeholders, including community partners, staff, and the greater community. This experience reinforced the importance of taking data back to community members to support the continued cycle of program development, improvement, and evaluation. We are looking forward to applying what we’ve learned by incorporating creative methods of data dissemination and centering community voice in our future work and collaborations.

Registration is now open for the 2023 Community Driven Research Day, which will be held on January 26, 2023 at Drexel University. Click here for more information and to register.