Experimental ethnographies of early intervention: a new ‘gold standard’?

Rodolfo Maggio


Early intervention in child development has become co-existent with program evaluation by means of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Although the polarized debate between detractors and promoters of quantitative methods is fading as the idea of interdisciplinarity gains programmatic traction, RCTs are still considered the “gold standard.” The application of mixed methods remains limited in evaluation of program effectiveness. In this article I propose three possible forms of integration between ethnography and RCT in the field of early intervention in child development. I argue that such an integration is beneficial for evaluation research and, thus, for the delivery of better early intervention services.


early intervention, child development, ethnography, evaluation research, mixed methods, randomized controlled trial, interdisciplinarity

Riferimenti bibliografici

Ammerman, Robert T., Frank W. Putnam, Nicole R. Bosse, Angelique R. Teeters, and Judith B. Van Ginkel. (2010). “Maternal Depression in Home Visitation: A Systematic Review.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 15(3): 191–200.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Oxford, England: Prentice-Hall.

Bell, S., Aggleton, P., (2012). Integrating ethnographic principles in NGO monitoring and impact evaluation. Journal of International Development 24(6):795-807.

Bell, S., Aggerton, P. (2016). Monitoring and Evaluation in Health and Social Development: Interpretive and Ethnographic Perspectives. London: Routledge.

Bögels, S.M., van Melick, M. (2004). The relationship between child report, parent self-report, and partner report of perceived parental rearing behaviors and anxiety in children and parents. Personality and Individual Differences 37(8): 1583–1596.

Bollen, K., Pamela, P. (1998). Detection and Determinants of Bias in Subjective Measures. American Sociological Review 63(3): 465–78.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge, Massachu-setts, and London, England: Harvard University Press.

Campbell, D. (1994). Retrospective and prospective on program impact assessment. Evaluation Practice 15(3): 291-298.

Concha-Eastman, A. (2016). “Introduction: Home visitation as a primary prevention tool for violence.” In: Roggman, L., Cardia, N (eds.) Home Visitation Programs. Springer International Publishing, pp. 3-8.

Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., Pence, A.R. (1999). Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives. London: Falmer/Routledge.

Dalli, C., White, J. (2016). Group-based early childhood education and care for under-2-year-olds: Quality debates, pedagogy and lived experience. In Farrell A, Kagan SL, and Tisdall EKM (eds.), The SAGE handbook of early childhood research. London: SAGE, pp. 36-50.

Davies, C. A. (2012). Reflexive ethnography: A guide to researching selves and others. Routledge.

Delgado, M.A. (2009). Community Involvement in Services for Young Children: Accepting, Re-sisting and Proposing Alternatives to Mainstream Views. Saarbrucken: VDM.

Doyle, Orla, Liam Delaney, Christine O’Farrelly, Nick Fitzpatrick, and Michael Daly. (2017). “Can Early Intervention Improve Maternal Well-Being? Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” PLOS ONE 12(1).

Farrell, A., Kagan, S.L., Tisdall, E.K.M. (2016). The SAGE Handbook of Early Childhood Research. London: SAGE.

Fergusson, David M., Hildegard Grant, L. John Horwood, and Elizabeth M. Ridder. (2005). “Randomized Trial of the Early Start Program of Home Visitation.” Pediatrics 116(6): 803–809.

Foster, S.L., Mash, E.J. (1999). Assessing social validity in clinical treatment research: Issues and procedures. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 67(3):308.

Gomby, D. (2005). Home visitation in 2005: Outcomes for children and parents. Invest in kids. Committee for economic development invest in kids working group. http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lc/committees/study/2008/SFAM08/files/GombyHVoutcomes2005.pdf

Glasgow, R.E., Lichtenstein, E., Alfred, C.M. (2003). Why don’t we see more translation of health promotion research to practice? Rethinking the efficacy-to-effectiveness transition. American Journal of Public Health 93(8):1261-1267.

Gleed A. and Marchant D. (2016), Interdisciplinarity: Survey Report for the Global Research Council. Research Councils UK and the Science and Engineering Research Board. Retrieved August 15, 2017. http://www.globalresearchcouncil.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Interdisciplinarity%20Report%20for%20GRC_DJS%20Research.pdf.

Hymes, D. (2003). Ethnography, linguistics, narrative inequality: Toward an understanding of voice. Taylor & Francis.

Jadad, A.R. and Enkin M.W. (2008), Bias in randomized controlled trials. In: Jadad AR and Enkin MW (eds.) Randomized Controlled Trials: Questions, Answers, and Musings, Second Edition, edited by. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 29-47.

James, A. (2007), Ethnography in the study of children and childhood. In: Atkinson P, Coffey A, Delamont S, Lofland J and Lofland L (eds) Handbook of Ethnography. London: SAGE, pp. 246-58.

Janus M. and Offord D.R. (2007), Development and psychometric properties of the early development instrument (EDI): A measure of children’s school readiness. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 39:1–22.

Jessor, R., Colby, A., & Shweder, R. A. (Eds.). (1996). Ethnography and human develop-ment: Context and meaning in social inquiry. University of Chicago Press.

Johnson, R.B. and Onwuegbuzie A.J. (2004), Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational researcher 33(7):14-26.

Konstantoni, K. and Kustatscher, M. (2016), Conducting Ethnographic Research in Early Childhood Research: Questions of Participation. In: Farrell A, Kagan SL, and Tisdall EKM (eds.) The SAGE handbook of early childhood research. London: SAGE, pp. 223-240.

LeVine R.A, Bloom Lloyd LeVine, B. (1966), Nyansongo: a Gusii community in Kenya. New York: Krieger.

MacIntyre, A. (2013), After virtue. London: Bloomsbury.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. (1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native En-terprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London, UK: Routledge.

Milner, J.S. and Crouch J.L. (1997), Impact and detection of response distortions on parenting measures used to assess risk for child physical abuse. Journal of Personality Assessment 69:633–650.

Moedas, C. (2016), “No title”. Brussels: International Network for Government Sci-ence Advice Conference. Retrieved on August 15, 2017. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2014-2019/moedas/announcements/international-network-government-science-advice-conference_en

Najman, Jake M., Rosemary Aird, William Bor, Michael O’Callaghan, Gail M. Wil-liams, and Gregory J. Shuttlewood. 2004. “The Generational Transmission of Socioeconomic Inequalities in Child Cognitive Development and Emotional Health.” Social Science and Medicine 58(6): 1147–58

New, R.S. (1998), Theory and Praxis in Reggio Emilia: They Know What They are Doing and Why. In: Edwards C, Gandini L, and Forman G (eds.) The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections, NJ: Ablex, pp. 261-284.

Odom, S., Wolery, M (2003) A unified theory of practice in early intervention/early childhood special education evidence-based practices. The Journal of Special Education 37(3):164-173.

Pellatt, G. (2003). Ethnography and reflexivity: emotions and feelings in fieldwork. Nurse Researcher (through 2013), 10(3), 28.

Penn, H. (2016). Social and Political Landscapes of Childhood. In: Farrell A, Kagan SL, and Tisdall EKM (eds.) The SAGE handbook of early childhood research. Lon-don: SAGE, pp. 469-485.

PFL Evaluation Team. (2016). “Preparing for Life: Early Childhood Intervention. Final Report. Did Preparing for Life Improve Children’s School Readiness?” University College Dublin. Geary Institute for Public Policy. Ragin C.C. (2014). The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Safford, P., Sargent, M., Cook, C. (1994), Instructional models in early childhood special education: Origins, issues, and trends. In Safford P, Sargent M and Cook C (eds.) Early childhood special education: Yearbook in early childhood education. Volume 5. New York: Teachers College Press. pp. 96-117.

Saracho, O.N. (2017). Writing and Publishing Qualitative Studies in Early Childhood Education. Early Childhood Education Journal 45(1):15-26.

Sherman, L.W., Strang, H. (2004), Experimental Ethnography: The Marriage of Qualitative and Quantitative Research. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595: 204–22.

Shonkoff, J., Phillips, D. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. 2000. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Sieber, S. D. (1973). The integration of fieldwork and survey methods. American journal of sociology, 78(6), 1335-1359.

Small, M.L. (2011). How to Conduct a Mixed Methods Study: Recent Trends in a Rapidly Growing Literature. Annual Review of Sociology 37(1):57– 86.

Stewart-Brown, S., Anthony, R., Wilson, L., Winstanley, S., Stallard, N., Snooks, H., Simkiss D. (2011). Should randomized controlled trials be the “gold standard” for research on preventive interventions for children? Journal of Children's Services 6(4):228-235.

Straus, M.A., Hamby, S.L., Finkelhor, D., Moore, D.W., Runyan, D. (1998). Identification of child maltreatment with the Parent–Child Conflict Tactics Scales: Development and psychometric data for a national sample of American parents. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22(4):249–270.

Sweet, M.A., Appelbaum, M.I. (2004). Is home visiting an effective strategy? A me-ta‐analytic review of home visiting programs for families with young children. Child development, 75(5), pp.1435-1456.

Tashakkori, A., Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed Methodology: Combining Qualitative and Quantita-tive Approaches. London: SAGE.

Tashakkori, A., Creswell, J.W. (2007). Editorial: The New Era of Mixed Methods. Journal of Mixed Methods Research (1):3-7.

Thaler, R.H., Sunstein, C.R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Tobin, J.J., Wu, D.Y.H., Davidson, D.H. (1989). Preschool in Three Cultures. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Tobin, J.J., Hsueh, Y., Karasawa, M. (2009). Preschool in Three Cultures Revisited: China, Japan and the United States. London: University of Chicago Press.

Walsh, M. (2016), Using interpretive research to make quantitative evaluation more effective. In: Bell S and Aggerton P (eds.) Monitoring and Evaluation in Health and Social Development: Interpretive and Ethnographic Perspectives. London: Routledge. pp. 219-231.

Wolery, M., Bredekamp, S. (1994). Developmentally appropriate practice and young children with disabilities: Contextual issues in the discussion. Journal of Early Intervention 18:331–341.


  • Non ci sono refbacks, per ora.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Utilizziamo i cookie per essere sicuri che tu possa avere la migliore esperienza sul nostro sito. Se continui ad utilizzare questo sito noi assumiamo che tu sia d'accordo con i cookie da noi utilizzati. Per maggiori informazioni clicca qui: Privacy policy e cookie


Editore: Giuseppe Licari dal 2013 - piazza Lodi 4, 26100 Cremona

Rivista scientifica ISSN: 2281-8960 - registrata presso il Tribunale di Cremona: registro stampa n° 323/2013.