Chatting over dinner can lead to a creative research idea

Melanie Forstrom, 4-H program leader, Ulster County, NY

Melanie Forstrom, 4-H program leader, Ulster County, NY

Sometimes a creative research idea evolves over dinner. Amidst conversation about mountaineering adventures, sex in your 50s, and interesting research with professors, researchers, and practitioners at the annual PRYDE meeting, a good research idea became great. I (the practitioner, a NY State 4-H program leader in Ulster County) started by explaining a dilemma: as a practitioner, I struggle with the amount of time we spend evaluating 4-H projects, exhibits, and presentations. To illustrate the problem: sometimes a 4-Her spends 20 minutes preparing for a presentation that they give in 5 minutes and evaluators then spend the next 20 minutes giving a 9-year-old feedback on each of the 17 rating factors we currently evaluate in an illustrated talk.  It starts to become obvious that our program requires further research, especially as public speaking platforms have changed immensely in the past decade. In the South East District of 4-H in NY we have come a long way in standardizing our forms, providing rubrics to reduce subjectivity in evaluating, and giving hands-on evaluator training, but yet we still strongly believe that further research is required to see how much feedback youth can process at different developmental stages in order to feel comfortable making the claim that our programs are truly research-based.

As I explained and shared this dilemma with my colleagues at the PRYDE conference, ideas started to take form. One colleague reminded me of interesting work involving the Public Presentations Program that had been completed a few years prior. Another colleague had been involved in filming practitioners and using the film to give them targeted feedback, and had a model through which to analyze it. Others just chimed in about the importance of teaching public speaking and other thoughts about how to tie together a research proposal on this subject.  

The next day in speaking with PRYDE Scholars in a one-on-one networking environment, I had some great conversations about the importance of public speaking, especially for girls and women whom I have found to be far less willing than men to speak in public. We discussed this lack of visibility, often stemming from a socialized lack of confidence or practice, and how it hinders future growth, as public speaking is a requirement of most leadership positions. We talked about ways for the Scholars to get involved, including having them evaluate Public Presentations next year.

I hope you have enjoyed this illustration of how a good, necessary idea can evolve in a practitioner/researcher relationship. Some general tips from my practitioner experiences include:

  • Researchers interested in partnering should seek practitioner feedback from the beginning of a proposal, from the formulation of the research question
  • Arrange informal gatherings of interesting people who want to bridge the research/practitioner divide and just let them talk (wine can sometimes help the processJ)
  • Practitioners should come to such networking events at least semi-prepared with a dilemma or an idea to pitch or propose
  • As researchers interested in partnering, never say “we have no idea about the practical application of our research.” Practitioners’ brains explode when we hear this as we can’t imagine doing research that doesn’t at least attempt to address one of the many issues our communities and youth face

Now keep your fingers crossed that we get funded and can gather information to help us put together a cutting-edge 4-H public speaking program grounded in research!


By Melanie Forstrom, 4-H program leader, Ulster County, NY

Melanie ForstromComment