Key Concepts: Innovation

InnovationThe science of child development is a powerful but largely untapped resource for transforming the lives of young children and their families. This science can be used to drive innovation and create new interventions that address the roots of socioeconomic disparities in lifelong health and learning, thereby strengthening the economy and the social foundation of our communities.

Why is innovation in early childhood policy and practice needed to improve lifelong outcomes?

Current efforts in the early childhood field have improved life outcomes for many children facing adversity. Attempts to improve the quality, access, and coordination of services are vitally important, but the cumulative burdens of low family income, limited parent education, and social exclusion can overwhelm even the best programs. We can and must do better, and science can point the way. Innovation offers a continuous cycle of idea development, testing and feedback that can help improve our ability to implement successful interventions and ultimately change the trajectory of more children’s lives.

What does innovation mean for the Center on the Developing Child’s work?

Using current best practices as a starting point, the Center seeks to add an R&D (research and development) dimension to the early childhood field. Drawing on knowledge from different sectors, the Center approaches innovation as a process that emphasizes rapid discovery, fast-cycle testing and constant reevaluation. An innovation culture thrives on the open sharing of early findings, encourages a willingness to take risks in the design of new concepts, and embraces learning from failure.

FIND: Using Science to Coach Caregivers

Innovation in Action

FIND: Using Science to Coach Caregivers

At Children’s Home Society of Washington, social service providers now help parents identify their own strengths and learn which interactions with their young children best promote healthy development by using video clips of the parents doing it well. Created in partnership with researchers at the University of Oregon and Oregon Social Learning Center, this intervention supports positive interactions in young families facing adversity and models an innovative co-creation and testing process for science-based strategies. Learn more in this Innovation in Action video, the second in this series of portraits that focuses on innovative, collaborative work as part of Frontiers of Innovation.

View this Innovation in Action video >>

What does innovation need to succeed in the early childhood field?
  • Seeds: New ideas, based on strong science, that offer plausible routes for achieving breakthrough outcomes.
  • Soil: People and organizations who are willing to test promising ideas, learn from failure, and catalyze broader impact.
  • Climate: Policy, funding, and professional environments that encourage and support experimentation.

Who helps drive the innovation process?

Innovators are individuals or groups who are driven by their "constructive dissatisfaction," or the sense that existing early childhood programs and policies are good, but not sufficient. They may be researchers, practitioners, policymakers, philanthropists, and other creative problem-solvers who work in academic, practice, community, and government settings. Most importantly, innovators are willing to seek out and test new ideas, take risks on less proven approaches, learn from failure, and share their findings with others.

How can you help drive innovation?

Innovation can and should start anywhere, but it’s hard to do alone. You can begin by connecting with like-minded people linked by geography, common goals and challenges, or similar populations served. Evaluate your current outcomes and decide whether you are committed to doing better. What would make a truly significant difference if you could achieve it? This is the breakthrough outcome that will guide your group’s work. Use the science of child development to create a testable hypothesis about how to overcome your key challenges. As you begin to develop, implement, and test small-scale models based on your theory, build in opportunities for rapid-cycle evaluation and revision. Remember that innovation also needs a supportive climate within organizations, communities, policy environment, and funding sources. Wherever your work fits into this landscape, you can support—even demand—innovation in the quest for better outcomes for children.

How is the Center on the Developing Child promoting innovation?

The Center is working to embrace an innovation culture by creating a dynamic learning community united by a commitment to achieve breakthrough outcomes for young children. Our various activities seek to drive the creation, sharing, and testing of new ideas with the potential to effect lasting change. The Center’s portfolio on the Science of Adversity and Resilience (SAR) supports cross-disciplinary groups engaged in generating an ever-expanding scientific foundation for new interventions. Using this science, Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) is working to drive innovation in early childhood policy and practice through collaborations with existing organizations and on-the-ground sites. Similarly, the Global Children’s Initiative (GCI) is drawing on the science of early development to drive an international research, public engagement, and leadership development agenda to test and adapt strategies in different cultural contexts.

Learn more about the Center’s activities >>