Measuring ecological validity: a theory-based assessment of ecological validity in community psychology research
Voorhees, Courte C. W.
Social ecological theory, adapted from natural ecology, aims to understand the connections between people, groups, cultures, and the natural environments that they inhabit. Following psychologists’ ecological adaptations in the 1930s and Kelly’s (1968) landmark adaptation of ecological processes into community psychology (CP), community researchers have attempted to attain ecological validity without a systematic methodology to guide and test their efforts. This has often resulted in theories and methods that do not fully reflect researchers’ ecological intentions. This paper explains the scientific evolution of ecological epistemology and creates an evaluative framework to test ecological validity. Then a sample (n = 26) of published research articles in CP is gathered from the 3 major CP journals using ecological search terms and then evaluated within the framework to determine the fidelity of the application of ecological theory. Total adherence to ecological principals by CP is somewhat less than half of potential (43.54%.), although a breakdown of scores reveals a trend toward traditional over action research (68.16% compared to 18.91% of potential) and preference or knowledge of some levels, processes, and methods over others – including a high amount of individual level research. New additions to the ecological analogy correlated well with existing concepts, indicating acceptable construct validity for suggested elements of ecological validity.