Frontiers of Innovation

Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) is the Center’s R&D Platform, designed to accelerate the development and adoption of science-based innovations that achieve breakthrough impact at scale. Launched in 2011, FOI employs a structured but flexible model that facilitates idea generation, development, implementation, testing, evaluation, and rapid-cycle iteration. This process is grounded in science and supported within a growing community of change agents who are committed to shared learning, cumulative knowledge, and transformative child outcomes at the population level.

FOI consists of three primary components:

  1. Science that provides a continuous pipeline of discoveries and hypotheses (from the biological, behavioral, and social disciplines) that are communicated effectively for application in policy and practice.
  2. Intervention Strategies that are designed, tested, and refined through the Translational Science Model, often within the context of an “innovation cluster.” They include small-scale pilots as well as strategies for increasing the population impacts of large-scale, evidence-based interventions.
  3. A Learning Community that includes people and organizations united by a common vision, engaged in shared learning to accelerate innovation, promoting early adoption of promising strategies, and testing pathways to impact at scale.

Science feeds FOI’s intervention strategies with new insights and testable hypotheses about the causal mechanisms underlying the lifelong effects of adversity on the body and brain. New research conducted by the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, synthesis of current science conducted by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, and the work of affiliated faculty members and research partners of the Center on the Developing Child all contribute in important ways. FOI’s portfolio of intervention strategies uses the combined efforts of these and other scientists in the FOI community to spark new, testable ideas.

FOI’s Intervention Strategies include a diverse portfolio of testable, on-the-ground pilots that have the potential to transform the lives of children and families facing adversity. When teams of researchers, practitioners, community members, and parents have identified unmet needs and are ready to co-create science-based theories of change that address the underlying causes of the identified challenges, they engage with FOI’s Translational Science Model (TSM). This is a structured process in which the teams: (1) develop clearly defined intervention strategies and specified implementation materials; (2) use common measures and contribute findings to a common database; (3) embrace a segmentation approach that focuses on understanding what works for whom, in what contexts, and why; (4) test and iterate in a rapid cycle of learning and adaptation; and (5) connect to a growing network of other pilots and strategies.

Individuals and organizations that are engaged in the intensive development and piloting of intervention strategies using the TSM are linked through informal networks of innovation clusters. These collaborating partners share common metrics through a centralized infrastructure. They consult with FOI’s measurement and evaluation leadership group (the “Go Team”) to ensure rigorous and productive application of the FOI Model in developing theories of change, intervention materials, evaluation plans, and approaches to scalability. They also communicate with others across the FOI Learning Community on a regular basis.

The FOI Learning Community is a broader, multisectoral group of individuals and organizations, extending beyond the core network of sites and clusters that are engaged with the Center directly to use the TSM. This rapidly expanding Learning Community includes both innovators creating new strategies and early adopters of promising models. It connects large service systems and small-scale programs. It provides an evolving infrastructure for a growing movement fueled by a new breed of investors and highly committed experts in practice and policy change, innovation methodologies, and translational science. Its membership comes from a range of disciplines and sectors with a shared commitment to common principles, including:

  • constructive dissatisfaction with the impact of current best practices,
  • the use of science to develop new theories of change,
  • investment in shared learning and distributed leadership, and
  • a relentless drive to achieve nothing less than breakthrough outcomes at scale for young children facing adversity.


Frontiers of Innovation Projects

This 5-minute video depicts the science-driven hypothesis that currently undergirds FOI intervention strategies: in order to achieve breakthrough outcomes for children, we must actively build the self-regulation skills, executive functioning, and mental health of the adults who care for them.

FOI is driving science-based innovation through a diverse portfolio of on-the-ground projects that form a dynamic learning community. No two projects look the same, but they share a set of key approaches (see below) as well as an overarching theory of change. This theory hypothesizes that in order to achieve breakthrough outcomes for children, we must actively build the self-regulation skills, executive functioning, and mental health of the adults who care for them.


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Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) is a video coaching program that aims to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children. It uses select clips of adults engaging with children to reinforce the kinds of “serve and return” responses that are the foundation of healthy development.

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Learning Through Play

This intervention strategy utilizes games and play coaching to improve executive function skills in children. The Learning Through Play team has tested this intervention in a center-based, trauma-informed early education setting, where it also ran coaching sessions for adult caregivers on how to scaffold play and support children’s skill development.

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MOMS (Mental Health Outreach for Mothers) is a multi-neighborhood, community-driven partnership that develops interventions to meet the mental health needs of single mothers in at-risk neighborhoods. The project combines basic needs services with mental health and economic security services for mothers to decrease stress and increase parenting capacity.

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This project supports parents as they work with their children to build regular family routines. By focusing on real-life daily situations such as bedtime and mealtime, this intervention seeks to strengthen executive function skills in adults and children, while also increasing predictability within young children’s lives.

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Washington Cluster

Among our initial cohort of innovation clusters, a network of pilot sites in the state of Washington represents the leading edge. This collaboration includes five program sites linked to six university-based researchers and a working group of program directors, managers, and senior advisors across multiple state agencies.

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The Intergenerational Mobility Project

By applying science to social service program design, the Intergenerational Mobility Project seeks to mitigate the effects of poverty and its associated stressors in order to support motivated low-income families as they work their way across the economic divide.

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