Importance of Social Validity

When implementing school interventions, ongoing evaluation as to whether the treatment outcomes are acceptable, socially relevant, and useful to the students and teachers, is necessary to understand the intervention’s impact. This is called social validity and it’s an important factor in a school selecting interventions, especially a behavior support program, where there are a wide variety of choices.

Michelle Marchant and Melissa Heath, associate professors in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education, stress the need for increased attention to social validity in their recent article, “Merging Empiricism and Humanism: Role of Social Validity in the School-Wide Positive Behavior Support Model.” Recently published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, their article emphasizes that social validity looks at how well the implemented program is accepted and embraced by stakeholders, typically including administrators, teachers, parents, and students.

Marchant and Heath not only talk about how to implement social validity, but specifically investigate the inclusion of social validity in the growing body of empirical research supporting the use of School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS).  According to Marchant and Heath, lthough SWPBS is touted as an evidence-based practice, researchers have neglected to consider or evaluate the social validity of these programs or reported social validity data.  Marchant and Heath emphasize, “Given the importance of stakeholder buy-in, initial and ongoing consideration of social validity is of paramount importance.”  They conclude, “These literature reviews should send a strong message to researchers and practitioners who are involved in SWPBS: We must do a better job in collecting, analyzing, and reporting social validity data.”

In order to do a better job in collecting and reporting social validity data, researchers must recognize the important role stakeholders play in the successful implementation of school behavior support programs.  Stakeholders are typically more involved in SWPBS than in other behavior support models due to school wide implementation.  In order to collect social validity data, researchers have a variety of options, including surveying the stakeholders, conducting focus groups, and observing students’ behaviors in classroom settings.  After collecting this data, researchers evaluating SWPBS then consider additional ways to further improve how they gather information from stakeholders.  After evaluating the social validity of SWPBS, the authors suggest that, “researchers would be wise to evaluate stakeholders’ perceptions of treatment goals on an inclusive scale and ensure adequate representation of indirect stakeholders (teachers, administrators) responsible for primary stakeholders (students).”

Marchant and Heath indicate that evaluations to assess social validity are not currently being conducted.  They suggest that including all stakeholders and considering input from each of these different groups would help in the ongoing evaluation process. This type of feedback would also assist researchers in problem solving weak spots of program implementation. Additionally, Marchant and Heath suggest that, “Determining differences of social validity among . . . groups would contribute to the breadth and depth of information gathered from these reports.”

Future research in SWPBS that includes the assessment of social validity will allow researchers to more accurately document effective and acceptable strategies, increasing the potential to create workable guidelines, implement meaningful change, and further strengthen SWPBS programs. By improving the evaluation of stakeholders’ perceptions and engaging in efforts to more carefully monitor social validity, researchers and practitioners will help  “bridge the gap between research and practice.”