Science-based innovation: Innovation Fund award announcement

We are excited to announce our Innovation Fund partners! Thirteen organizations, many of which have formed partnerships to work on their programs, will receive up to $4,993,989 over two years. Congratulations to our awardees:

Eastside Pathways
India Association of Western Washington
Mother Africa
North Seattle College
Open Doors for Multicultural Families
Partners for Our Children
Tiny Trees Preschool
Somali Family Safety Task Force
South Seattle Women’s Health Foundation
The Arc of King County

Science-Based Innovation Training and Workshop

The purpose of Best Starts’ Innovation Fund is to support different approaches to serving young children and their families. The current landscape of prenatal-to-five services includes many long standing—often decades-old—models that may not fit the diverse range of cultures, experiences, and needs of families in King County.

Through the Innovation Fund, King County is partnering with the above community-based organizations who are seeking to implement new or adapted approaches to support the health and well-being of pregnant individuals, children aged zero to five and their families, service providers and communities. In order to ensure approaches address the needs and priorities in a way that community stakeholders believe will be effective, awardees were invited to attend a free, three-day Science-Based Innovation Training and Workshop offered by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, University of Washington, and Children’s Home Society of Washington.

The IDEAS Framework

The event began with a one day training followed by a two-day hands-on workshop on the IDEAS Framework ™, a new approach to program development and evaluation developed by Frontiers of Innovation. The IDEAS Framework is designed to help teams develop stronger programs, optimize evaluation efforts, and engage in fast-cycle iteration to learn more about how an intervention works, for whom, and in what contexts.

Organizations were asked to come as teams of three to six key personnel who would be involved with planning, implementation and evaluation of their program – some even included teams of eight or more.

Co-creation and fast-cycle iteration are part of the guiding principles of this innovation work. This workshop served as an opportunity to jumpstart the fast-cycle learning process in a personalized, small-group setting. The folks at Frontiers of Innovation describe fast-cycle iteration and its benefits below:

In contrast to more traditional randomized control trials, which involve high numbers of participants over several years, project teams using IDEAS Impact Framework fast-cycle iteration start with a series of low-cost, relatively small-scale pilot tests that enable them to establish feasibility and begin to explore the program’s theory of change. Each fast-cycle iteration, which can take place over weeks or a few months, is an opportunity to make refinements to the program based on what is and isn’t working, and to move toward higher levels of evidence at a faster pace.

The Framework’s three components


Following and building on the Science-Based Innovation Training on day one, the two day workshop provided teams with an opportunity to dig deeper into the content presented during the first day and work closely with facilitators to apply that knowledge to their own program.

The workshop focused on building the skills necessary for each organizational team to develop the three components of the IDEAS Framework for their program: a precise theory of changeprogram materials that support effective implementation, and evaluation methods that facilitate continuous learning.

What is a theory of change?

A theory of change is a set of testable beliefs about how, why, and for whom a program has an impact. In the Program and Materials Development session of the workshop, each group reviewed their existing program materials and planned for future development. In the Evaluation session, each team began to develop an evaluation plan designed to investigate the program’s Theory of Change. The workshop concluded with a session on Project Planning in which each team created a detailed timeline for a feasibility test or pilot study.

In the video below, Frontiers of Innovation leaders Phil Fisher and Melanie Berry, pictured above at the training and workshop, explain theory of change in more detail.

Redesigning policy and practice

Participants were encouraged to consider three “design principles” that they could use when designing or adapting their programs and policies. To be maximally effective and improve outcomes for children and families, policies and services should:

  1. Support responsive relationships for children and adults.
  2. Strengthen core life skills.
  3. Reduce sources of stress in the lives of children and families.

These principles point to set of key questions: What are current policies, systems, or practices doing to address each principle? What could be done to address them better? What barriers prevent addressing them more effectively? These questions will be important for our Innovation Fund partners to consider when adapting or designing their programs.

Congratulations again to our Innovation Fund awardees and their partners, and thank you to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, University of Washington, and Children’s Home Society of Washington for organizing and leading the training.

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