We all know about independent variables, and dependent variables. Probably even learned about moderator variables, control variables and intervening variables. Have you heard of confounding variables? Variables over which you have no (or very little) control. They present as a positive or negative correlation with the dependent and independent variable. This spurious relationship plays havoc with analyses, program outcomes, and logic models. You see them often in social programs.
Ever encounter one? (Let me know). Need an example? Here is one a colleague provided. There was a program developed to assist children removed from their biologic mothers (even though the courts typically favor mothers) to improve the children’s choices and chances of success. The program had included training of key stakeholders (including judges, social service, potential foster parents). The confounding variable that wasn’t taken into account was the sudden appearance of the biological father. Judges assumed that he was no longer present (and most of the time he wasn’t); social service established fostering without taking into consideration the presence of the biological father; potential foster parents were not allerted in their training of the possibility. Needless to say, the program failed. When biologic fathers appeared (as often happened), the program had no control over the effect they had. Fathers had not been included in the program’s equation.
Recently, I was asked to review a grant proposal, the award would result in several hundred thousand dollars (and in today’s economy, no small change). The PI’s passion came through in the proposal’s text. However, the PI and the PI’s colleagues did some major lumping in the text that confounded the proposed outcomes. I didn’t see how what was being proposed would result in what was said to happen. This is an evaluative task. I was charged to with evaluating the proposal on technical merit, possibility of impact (certainly not world peace), and achievability. The proposal was lofty and meant well. The likelihood that it would accomplish what it proposed was unclear, despite the PI’s passion. When reviewing a proposal, it is important to think big picture as well as small picture. Most proposals will not be sustainable after the end of funding. Will the proposed project be able to really make an impact (and I’m not talking here about world peace).
I attended a meeting recently that focused on various aspects of diversity. (Now among the confounding here is what does one mean by diversity; is it only the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity? Or something bigger, more?) One of the presenters talked about how just by entering into the conversation, the participants would be changed. I wondered, how can that change be measured? How would you know that a change took place? Any ideas? Let me know.
A colleague asked whether a focus group could be conducted via email. I had never heard of such a thing (virtual, yes; email, no). Dick Krueger and Mary Ann Casey only talk about electronic reporting in their 4th edition of their Focus Group book. If I go to Wikipedia (keep in mind it is a wiki…), there is a discussion of online focus groups. Nothing offered about email focus groups. So I ask you, readers, is it a focus group if it is conducted by email?