From Theory to Methodology: Using Ecological Engagement to Study Development in Context

Silvia H. Koller, Marcela Raffaelli, Normanda Araujo de Morais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urie Bronfenbrenner’s groundbreaking work on development in context has made an enduring impact on the field of developmental science. However, translating his theoretical concepts in empirical studies has proved challenging. In this article, we describe a methodological approach—ecological engagement methodology (EEM)—that was designed to operationalize key elements of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory in studies of development in context. In particular, we describe the development of EEM, illustrate the approach using examples from qualitative and quantitative studies of vulnerable youth, provide a brief guide to implementing EEM, and discuss its major strengths and challenges. We conclude that EEM offers a flexible and powerful way to apply Bronfenbrenner’s theoretical propositions in studies of development in context, yielding data that are of high quality; ecologically valid; and relevant to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-163
Number of pages7
JournalChild Development Perspectives
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Urie Bronfenbrenner
  • bioecological theory
  • developmental methodology
  • street-involved youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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