Aronson, Janet Krasner. Leveraging Social Networks to Create Social Change: Ripple Effects of Taglit-Birthright Israel on Parents of Participants, PhD thesis, Brandeis University, 2015.
In the present accountability-oriented policy environment, funding and replication of educational and public health programs are contingent upon evidence-based evaluations and demonstrable outcomes. In many cases, resource constraints preclude the delivery of interventions to all potential beneficiaries. It is possible, however, for program reach to be extended through consideration of the effects of the program on secondary groups in the social networks of the targeted population. Using a single case of a targeted educational program, this dissertation examines methodological issues in the explicit identification and measurement of such effects, referred to here as “ripple effects” and defined as the dissemination of indirect outcomes of a program through the social network ties of targeted individuals. Specifically, the study assesses the impact of the Taglit-Birthright Israel travel program for Jewish young adults on connections to Israel among parents of participants.
This three-paper dissertation utilizes a mixed-method approach, drawing on semistructured interviews as well as pre- and post-trip surveys of parents conducted between November 2013 and May 2014. The first paper describes the theoretical social network framework within which ripple effects operate and recommends methods to incorporate the measurement of ripple effects in program evaluation. The second paper utilizes a framework of emerging adulthood and focuses on the process of persuasion through which emerging adults influence the views of their parents. This paper concludes that changes in the parent attitudes appear to result from the persuasive efforts of their children. The last paper shows that, for Jewish parents, the primary impact of Taglit is on increased interest in visits to Israel and reduced concern about the safety of Israel travel. The effect of the program was most pronounced for parents who had never been to Israel themselves.
Policy implications of this research include findings specific to Taglit as well as to other programmatic interventions in education and public health. Evidence of ripple effects on secondary groups can lead to the design of programs to maximize and capture those effects. By ignoring these indirect effects, the actual effects of programs might be underestimated.