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To be honest: when we first recruited the Harvard team to present their early childhood data bootcamp to Head Start leaders, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Professors Nonie and Stephanie of the Zaentz Early Education Initiative are respected educators, but they have limited experience with Head Start. Our idea was to spend two weeks thinking about data, and then a third week building on that foundation, to explore continuous quality improvement. I’m happy to report that it worked and to summarize key takeaways from the Institute.

Harvard is thinking about Data in very similar ways to the federal T/TA System

When the Office of Head Start first introduced new expectations around data and continuous quality improvement, it represented a major change. But we found during the bootcamp that it is very aligned with thinking from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We’ve been hearing for years now from the federal T/TA system about data use in programs, and the Harvard team’s presentations felt familiar: using data to identify patterns and trends, and the use of collaborative teams to investigate opportunities for improvement.

Program Implementation

Professors Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones emphasized the importance of conversations about data as part of an ongoing cycle of inquiry and improvement. They identified the need to create data teams to explore patterns together, and the importance of having both structures and processes, so that necessary data tools (e.g. collection and entry) are incorporated into the life of a program and and so that all stakeholders are engaged.

Data Culture

Just as OHS talks about moving from a culture of compliance to one of outcomes and improvement, Nonie and Stephanie also emphasized the importance of an effective and sustainable data-use culture. They broke it down into three elements: a shared understanding of the importance and urgency of data work, a shared commitment to using and acting on data, and underlying conditions that support collaborative data work and decision-making. They also emphasized the importance of psychological safety for effective conversations, so that staff don’t feel judged by data, but rather feel empowered to inquire and explore opportunities for improvement.

Continuous Quality Improvement

Our Harvard colleagues laid the data groundwork for the Early Intel team in the third week to introduce continuous quality improvement (CQI), a process and discipline identified in the current Performance Standards. Dr. Catherine Miller and Professor Maritza Lozano outlined the improvement journey, which begins with problem identification, understanding the current state, building a theory, initiating learning through experimentation, and deliberate implementation and scaling.

We spent time looking at the nature of systems and how they create outcomes, that a critical part of improvement science is identifying the component parts of systems and how they work together. Dr. Miller emphasized the need to ask “why” multiple times, to understand what is driving outcomes, and she looked at how the composition of one’s CQI team is critical in order to achieve needed insights. She also introduced the use of empathy interviews, to truly understand a problem from the perspective of the people it affects.

We learned about several tools including Driver Diagrams, Process Mapping, measuring variation with Histograms, Run Charts, and she walked participants through the Plan/Do/Study/Act cycle. Catherine emphasized that improvement science is not about perfection, but about trying new approaches based on our hypotheses, and learning from what works. But we also learned that while tools like these are useful, the most important element of CQI is the mindset one brings to the work.

What Next? Introducing the Q.I. Network

With the Institute now behind them, many programs are thinking about where they go next on their data and CQI journey. To support these programs, Early Intel recently created the Q.I. Network, a learning community supported by new dashboard analytics, learning groups organized by content area, ongoing training in CQI and personalized coaching to support implementation. For more information and a demo of the dashboard analytics, check out our webinar on Thursday, August 6, 2pm EDT/11am PDT.

quality improvement network