Innovation Clusters

Innovation clusters are cross-network collaborations between researchers, model developers, program sites, and practitioners. Within each cluster, project teams made up of researchers, developers, and site leaders co-design new strategies for addressing a specific unmet need within a population, such as increasing executive function skills in adult caregivers. The diverse pilot sites then test these strategies and share their findings across the innovation cluster to advance each other’s work and accelerate the overall rate of learning. For more on two innovation clusters in different stages of development, see the Brazilian Innovation Cluster, and the histories of the Latin American Innovation Clusters and the Washington Cluster.

For more about innovation clusters in action, see the Washington Cluster or the Latin American Innovation Clusters.

The ongoing interaction between researchers and sites in an innovation cluster is highly dynamic, and very different from the way researchers often develop and test new strategies. Under the conventional approach, researchers devote considerable time and resources to proving that a single program is effective – under optimal circumstances. And, they do not share the results of those studies until publication.

In contrast, the innovation cluster model not only facilitates active, ongoing collaboration between practitioners and researchers as a project team, but also enables cluster members to share data right away in order to identify opportunities for immediate changes. The project team members work together to understand the implications of what they’re learning as they implement in community-based settings – including an understanding of who the intervention is working for, who it’s not working for, and why.

Central to the success of this innovation approach to testing new ideas and intervention strategies is the idea of fast-cycle learning. During fast-cycle learning, sites within innovation clusters evaluate the work as it progresses, discover quickly what is working for whom and not working for others, and make rapid adjustments based on those assessments.

Learn more about Theories of Change.

Clusters evolve, improve, and build on each other’s findings over time. No two clusters look alike, but most share the following characteristics:

  • Multiple intervention pilot programs in a diversity of sites that share a theory of change.
  • A co-creation approach to the development of intervention strategies. Researchers and practitioners use an iterative model that supports the design, implementation, and evaluation of multiple science-based ideas.
  • A research and evaluation “hub” that promotes short-cycle feedback, rapid interpretation of results, and continuous adaptation of strategies over time within a defined area. This hub is connected to FOI’s centralized evaluation and measurement capacity.
Read more about Science-Based Innovation.

Innovation clusters provide the infrastructure for conducting and accelerating science-based innovation. Their long-term success depends on the sustainable involvement of policymakers and funders, who help create the environment that provides the flexibility and support needed for risk-taking and experimentation.

Frontiers of Innovation supports the formation and ongoing work of innovation clusters, with the ultimate goal of generating and sharing new knowledge that will advance the early childhood field. Its clusters are in different stages of development both nationally and internationally. To learn more about this work, see the Washington Cluster and the Latin American Innovation Clusters.

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