In an ordinary year, I develop a work plan to guide the strategic priorities and efforts of Childhood Prosperity Lab, which oversees the social innovation efforts of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office). The plan enables me to map out the various streams of work the Lab engages in, assess whether resources are distributed appropriately, anticipate and plan against hurdles and challenges, proactively manage key partnerships, and identify opportunity areas. I knew the 2020 work plan would be different from previous years, but had no idea how different it would be.
Embarking on an Ordinary Year
In December 2019 and January 2020, I anticipated my greatest challenge for the year would be introducing and soliciting buy-in for the Office’s newly designed and rebranded social innovation efforts. Formerly known as the Advancing Kids Innovation Program, we rebranded as the Childhood Prosperity Lab (the Lab) in January 2020. The rebranding provided an effort to simplify the Lab’s vision and mission, clarify the stakeholder groups we seek to engage, and streamline the services offered in order to more effectively and succinctly communicate the goals, intentions, rationale, and values driving our social innovation efforts. While I was confident in everything we created, I was unsure how the Lab would be received by existing and potential stakeholders.
Learn more about the launch of Childhood Prosperity Lab.
In addition to creating visibility and traction for the Lab, I wanted to begin laying the foundation for the Lab to become a national resource for advancing innovative strategies that help all children flourish, thrive, and succeed by focusing on four priority areas:
- Partnerships: develop new or enhance existing partnerships with changemakers who are creating solutions to the social, environmental, and behavioral challenges that children and families face that are more effective, sustainable, and equitable than current approaches.
- Evaluation: develop and begin implementing a strategy to understand and document the Lab’s ability to cultivate and advance innovative strategies that help all children reach their full potential.
- Case Examples: enhance the Lab’s storytelling capacity by developing case examples that demonstrate our capacity to meaningfully advance social innovations that address critical, contemporary child health, development, and well-being needs.
- Sustainability: identify strategies and resources needed to support the Lab’s continued sustainability and efforts to help all children prosper.
When an Ordinary Year Became Something Else
While I knew our work plan for 2020 was ambitious and that meeting all of the goals would be challenging, what I did not anticipate was doing this work in the midst of ever-changing, complex, unprecedented circumstances of which no one could have planned against:
- A novel coronavirus leading to a global pandemic that resulted in the loss of over 2,000,000 lives around the world, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
- Renewed national and international visibility and engagement in the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd. The political will and movement building project was initiated in response to the 2013 acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, according to Black Lives Matter.
- A contentious presidential campaign and election that resulted in a new president and our nation’s first Black, Asian American, and female vice president, and a violent and deadly protest at the U.S. Capitol Building as lawmakers met to certify the election results.
Thriving in a Not-So-Ordinary Year
Rays of inspiration, and innovation did emerge throughout the year, and I am thankful the Lab had a chance to support meaningful change and have a positive impact in the midst of so much uncertainty. The Lab’s work in 2020 included the following:
- Consulted with six changemakers developing and growing innovative strategies that address identified critical, contemporary child health, development, and well-being needs. Four of those changemakers went on to participate in a Mastermind Session, a brief consultation in which changemakers provide an overview of their innovation to a panel of advisors, engage in a semi-structured conversation with panelists to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement, and explore potential opportunities for collaboration with the Lab and other departments within Connecticut Children’s as appropriate.
- Published a four-part blog series in partnership with Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program that explored how organizations can leverage social innovation in housing as a platform to promote child health, development, and well-being. The series includes:
- Released Enhancing Developmental Promotion, Early Detection, Referral, and Linkage to Services within Early Care and Education in conjunction with the Help Me Grow National Center. The report documents how the National Center and Lab leveraged a community of practice framework to disseminate tested strategies that integrate Help Me Grow into early care and education settings in nine communities across the United States. The project was supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
- Executed planned efforts in collaboration with the Help Me Grow National Center, with support from The JPB Foundation, to:
- Convene a Growth Lab to support the dissemination of tested strategies that integrate developmental promotion, early detection, screening, and referral to Help Me Grow systems into Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to nine communities across the United States. Leveraging a community of practice framework, the Growth Lab is characterized by the following key activities: learning sessions, 1:1 technical assistance, collaboration sessions, action periods, and data collection and analysis. A report summarizing the project will be released later in 2021.
- Convene an Opportunity Lab to identify opportunities to enhance the durability and responsiveness of the Centralized Access Point (CAP), a core component of the Help Me Grow Model. The Opportunity Lab is characterized by semi-structured discussions in which participating Help Me Grow affiliates explored key themes related to implementation, evaluation, and sustainability of the CAP, action periods in which participants identified opportunities to strengthen the CAP, and data collection and analysis. A report documenting recommendations from the work group was shared with the Help Me Grow National Center.
- Develop a process to identify and assess the alignment of early childhood innovations developed by external changemakers with the Help Me Grow Model and increase the visibility of aligned strategies with the National Affiliate Network.
- Supported the identification, operationalization, and diffusion of three strategies developed by affiliates to enhance their response to the COVID-19 pandemic to a national network: crisis communication, enhanced Centralized Access Point services, and proactive outreach. This work was supported by the J.B. and M. K. Pritzker Family Foundation and was executed in partnership with Spring Impact and the Help Me Grow National Center.
- Identified, explored, and documented innovative strategies deployed by pediatric primary care providers across Connecticut in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in partnership with Connecticut Children’s Care Network and the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut.
- Partnered with the Children’s Museum to advance their innovation, Families Learn Together. This innovation seeks to bring museum services directly to communities in an effort to support the cognitive and social development of children.
“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” – Thomas Edison
Turning Not-So-Ordinary Into Ordinary
2020 was an unprecedented year for a number of reasons. While our original plans may not have panned out as expected, I am proud of all that we accomplished and the impact we had. I am also hopeful this is what an ordinary year for the Lab will look like – partnering with changemakers to cultivate and advance innovative strategies that address barriers negatively impacting the health, development, and well-being of children so that we can help all children prosper.
Are you a changemaker developing innovative strategies that promote children’s optimal health, development, and well-being? We want to hear from you! Send us an email at ChildhoodProsperityLab@ConnecticutChildrens.org.
Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager of the Childhood Prosperity Lab, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.
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