AEL Volume 39 Issue 2 June 2017
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Image 1: Achieve measurable results for early learners

AEL June 2017; 39 (2):
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Achieving Measurable Results for Early Childhood Clients and Communities

Deitre Epps, MS, Partner and Consultant, Clear Impact, San Francisco, USA
Adapted from Results-Based Accountability™ as presented in the book
Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough by Mark Friedman

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Distinguishing Population Indicators from Performance Measures
Keep it simple. How many times have we been given that advice for efficient problem solving? Well, allow me to offer this sage advice an additional time and apply it to the topic of measuring early childhood success. In the world of ‘big data’ it can be challenging to simply explain how early childhood leaders are doing at working collaboratively to achieve desired success for young children. In spite of this challenge, it is important to have the right data to provide useful feedback on the impact of existing efforts on early childhood success. Results Based Accountability™ (RBA) can support early childhood leaders to sift through the available data and select data that supports a clear understanding of the impact of their work. The use of RBA can also help distinguish between the impact of community partners working with shared accountability to impact population indicators from the impact of individual programs, agencies, and service systems working with the responsibility for impacting program performance measures.

What do you and your community partners want as a result for young children? Agree to a commonsense result that all partners can work towards and achieve together. We want children to enter school ready to learn. We want school readiness. Perhaps your group is focused on health and is working together for healthy children. Keep it simple. We want healthy children. Now consider the total population of children 0–8 in your community. In order to understand the scale of work needed to impact all children, begin by finding out how many children in this age group are in the community. Knowledge of these demographic data is important in order to understand the capacity of services required for population impact. Once the number of children has been established, local stakeholders can then work to disaggregate the data to understand sub populations of children within the larger group. Achieving the desired result for all children requires understanding and addressing the specific needs of the subpopulations.

Implementing Population
Accountability: Total population
Community impact: Keeping it simple
In seeking to impact the total population of children 0–8, communities must have strong early childhood community networks, with a shared understanding of the desired result(s), and shared accountability with these partners to create impact at this level. Answer the question: What do we want for children?
•  Begin with a simple result statement. What do we want for the total population?
•  Choose a minimum number of indicators to measure success ( no more than three to five indictors, preferably one)
•  Answer the questions with your partners, ensuring the families of young children are included in the conversation from the beginning.

At your next community partnership meeting, engage partners in a conversation using the five core Turn the Curve questions. Make a line graph to show the history of the data year by year.  
Question 1: How are we doing?
Question 2: What is the story behind the historical data?
(Consider what has happened to increase or decrease the data the past)
Question 3: Who are partners that have a role to play in addressing what this story?
Question 4: What works? (Connect these strategies to the story and the partners)
Question 5: What is our action plan?

Tips for Implementation:
•    Ask partners to agree to take shared accountability for tracking and improving the community data.
•    Consider having a Memorandum of Understanding that states and aligns the role of each partner in implementing the plan.
•    Ensure that the action plan includes mutually reinforcing, aligned strategies.
•    Convene both traditional and non-traditional early childhood partners necessary to achieve population results.

For example, perhaps elected officials can contribute by including the result and indicators in legislation for the purpose of achieving early childhood results and to ensure the school readiness of children 0–8 in the community.

Early childhood leaders have responsibility for tracking and improving the condition of wellbeing for all children using population indicators. These same leaders have responsibility for tracking and improving client outcomes using performance measures. They have community leadership responsibility to bring together the necessary partners to build a strong system that makes progress at the population level. They also have a program management responsibility to produce the best possible measurable results for their client populations. While the primary client population for early childhood leaders is children 0–8, additional client populations are often served in order to build their capacity to nurture and care for young children. These target populations include parents, family members, child care staff, teachers, and other including childcare or health care providers, who provide services to children and families. Impact for these clients can be tracked using performance measures.

Once strategies have been selected, they are implemented through programs and agencies. The early childhood service system includes the agencies and programs that serve the same children and families with the intent to improve the wellbeing of these individuals. When working together to coordinate early childhood services at the system level, the services are often provided directly to the child or family. Early Childhood leaders can coordinate and improve quality early childhood services for children and families, staff and others key stakeholders such are pediatricians.

This work can be measured and tracked using the three questions of performance accountability for programs, agencies and service systems. Some measures may be unique at the program and agency level. At the services system level, early childhood partner agencies can work together to determine the most important performance measures that they have in common.

The quadrants in the client population (Figure 1) symbolise the performance measures that early childhood leaders develop to better understand the impact of their work as they provide services to clients:
•    How much did we do?
•    How well did we do it?
•    Is anyone better off?

Keep it Simple: Limit the number of headline measures
At both the population and performance accountability levels, early childhood leaders can support measurement and tracking measures that have the greatest impact by using the Results Based Accountability™ criteria. Rate each measure as high, medium or low in each of the criteria: communication power, proxy power and data power:
Communication Power: Does the measure communicate to a broad range of audiences?
Proxy Power: Does the measure say something of central importance to the result? Does the measure also tell the story of other measures that tend to trend in the same direction?
Data Power: Is quality data available on a timely basis?

Narrow a comprehensive list of measures down to 3–5 of the most important “headline” measures that have high communication power, proxy power and data power.

Use the five core Turn the Curve questions to understand how to track and improve performance measures so that each client population is better off. Consider the client population for each division in the agency, with performance measures to show client impact: the child, the family, the staff (Figure 2).
Question 1: How are we doing?
Question 2: What is the story behind the data?
Question 3: Who are the partners that have a role to play in improving the data?
Question 4: What works to address the story?
Question 5: What is our action plan to improve the data?

Linking performance measures to population indicators to demonstrate impact
Building comprehensive systems is complex, particularly within early childhood, where diverse sectors and stakeholders must be involved to improve the lives of young children. Demonstrating impact in this environment can be daunting. RBA provides a disciplined framework for decision making that is simple, makes common sense and can be implemented for whole populations down to the smallest of programs. By being explicit about how work done at the program, agency and service system level connects to the total population, and by putting in place appropriate performance measures to assess this work, early childhood leaders can demonstrate their
collective and individual impact on meaningful and lasting change for children 0–8.

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Table 1: Keeping It Simple: Alignment of partners and their roles

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Fig. 1: Keep It Simple: Understand and Measure
Client Impact

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Table 2: Examples: Performance Measures for Programs, Agencies and Service Systems

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Fig. 2: Performance Measures to show client impact