IDEAS Impact Framework

The early childhood ecosystem is complex and requires bold solutions which are led and informed by family and practitioner voice. To catalyze innovation, we utilize the IDEAS Impact Framework, housed within The Harvard Center on the Developing Child, to support government, nonprofit, and foundations in improving the lives of young children and their families. The ICS team were members of the development team of the framework, and continue to build upon and expand the framework to meet the growing need of the field. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child now offers a free digital IDEAS Impact Toolkit to house this framework.

In our work, we guide organizations through the following steps:

  • Listening deeply to communities to understand their unique needs
  • Developing a clear and precise theory of impact
  • Utilizing innovative measurement and evaluation tools to collect data
  • Understanding variation in impact (what works for whom)
  • Engaging in fast-cycle iteration to drive ongoing improvement
Image courtesy of Harvard Center for the Developing Child

Other frameworks that inform our work:

Design Thinking

Too often, innovative efforts fail—not from a lack of effort, but due to a lack of understanding of the problem. That is, innovators often suffer from “solutionitis”, jumping to a solution before developing a true understanding of the problem and its cause. We believe the cure to solutionitis is to develop a deep understanding and empathy of, and co-create a process with, those who are experiencing the problems we hope to solve.

In our case, we leverage the five-step Design Thinking process. We often start with empathize, where we listen deeply and ask questions of providers, educators, and families about what works for them and where their challenges are. Next, we uncover themes and define the problem that we are trying to solve. We then ideate to generate potential solutions. Finally, we prototype a potential solution and then collect information to test whether it works.

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Social Determinants of Health

ICS draws from the social determinants of health (SDOH) model to inform our mission and vision, our definition of “child success,” and the activities we engage in to promote equitable outcomes for young children.

The World Health Organization defines the social determinants of health as “the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems.”

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Five key areas of the social determinants of health are:

  • Education access and quality
  • Health care access and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context
  • Economic stability

Six Conditions of Systems Change

Systems change refers to the intentional, collective effort to create and implement policies, programs, and practices that support the healthy development of young children and their families. This can involve changing the way services are delivered, improving the quality of childcare and education, increasing access to health care and social services, and addressing issues such as poverty and systemic racism that can negatively impact children’s development. Systems change is crucial because it recognizes the influence of larger social systems and structures. By working to create more supportive environments for young children, we can help ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.

As defined by John Kania, Mark Kramer & Peter Senge in The Water of Systems Change, the six conditions of systems change are:

Structural Change (Explicit)

  • Policies: Government, institutional and organizational rules, regulations, and priorities that guide the entity’s own and others’ actions.
  • Practices: Activities of institutions, coalitions, networks, and other entities targeted to improve social and environmental progress. Also, within the entity, the procedures, guidelines, or informal shared habits that comprise their work.
  • Resource Flows: How money, people, knowledge, information, and other assets such as infrastructure are allocated and distributed.

Relational Change (Semi-Explicit)

  • Relationships & Connections: Quality of connections and communication occurring among actors in the system, especially among those with differing histories and viewpoints.
  • Power Dynamics: The distribution of decision-making power, authority, and both formal and informal influence among individuals and organizations.

Transformative Change (Implicit)

  • Mental Models: Habits of thought—deeply held beliefs and assumptions and taken-for-granted ways of operating that influence how we think, what we do, and how we communicate.
Image courtesy of the Youth Power Coalition