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Focus On Basics

Volume 8, Issue B ::: May 2006

What Factors — Internal and External — Have an Impact On Service Delivery?

NCSALL Research in Progress

by Patsy Medina
Adult literacy administrators make numerous decisions regarding the literacy programs they manage. Those decisions help shape the culture of those programs and influence everything from the curricula implemented to what gets hung on bulletin boards. The decisions directly affect how programs are configured in terms of methods of instruction, the content of instruction, and their learner support systems. Program configuration has an impact on how learners participate in programs and the learning options available to them.

Administrators’ decisions are influenced by internal and external factors. Important external factors include federal, state, and local policies; regulations; required mechanisms; and events. Internal factors can range from the mundane, such as availability of space, to the philosophical, such as decision-makers’ values, attitudes, and beliefs.

To examine the impact of internal and external factors on adult literacy program services, researchers at Rutgers University are conducting the Policy and Program Administration (PAPA) research project. PAPA is seeking answers to the following questions:
1. What are the major inputs to decisions about service delivery at the program level?
2. How do those inputs influence decisions about service delivery?
3. What are the consequences for service delivery?

The unit for analysis for the study is the adult literacy education program. A program is defined as an organizational unit that enrolls students, conducts adult literacy education instruction, hires and supervises teachers, and fulfills grant-reporting requirements. A total of six programs were selected to participate, from six different states. The states were identified in consultation with a six-member panel of advisors of experts in the field of adult literacy. Three states were selected from those that had significantly transformed their policies within the last three years and three from states in which policy had been relatively stable for the last several years. To maximize the variability among the programs, the programs we selected were different from each other in size and type (affiliated with public schools, community-based agency, or community college).

The data were collected from two or three administrators, each with at least three years in their positions, per program. All our data were collected via telephone and onsite interviews; we used a semi structured interview guide as our primary protocol. After acquiring background information, we asked the program administrators to think of five critical incidents that have happened in the past five years that have affected, or could have affected, how they provided services to learners. These could have been one-time events, such as a funding crisis, or recurring events, such as the issuance of requests for proposals for grant funding. We continued to ask probing questions until each critical incident was fully described to our satisfaction. We also asked questions about specific federal, state, and local policies.

As of the writing of the article, data will be collected for another month. The data analysis phase of PAPA has yet to take place. We expect to publish a report on the NCSALL Web site in the fall of 2006 (http://www.ncsall.net).

About the Author
Patsy Medina is an assistant professor at Buffalo State College, where she teachers graduate courses in adult education and literacy. Prior to that, she worked at Rutgers University, from which she received her doctoral degree and was a member of the research team on research projects sponsored by NCSALL. She spent 14 years as an adult literacy practitioner in a community-based literacy organization in the South Bronx, New York.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL