Discovery Planning & Launch
2000 - 2001
This phase of Discovery includes the legacy period for Children First, a prior initiative. During this time, the Memorial Fund:
- Talked with community groups and representatives
- Designed the intiative
- Invited community and statewide representatives to join the work as grantees and partners
Encouraged connections between communities, state and regional organizations, and school system
Engaging with communities and state organizations influenced the Memorial Fund's thinking about what it takes to change systems. As a result, Discovery was designed to:
- Engage Connecticut communities in building and implementing a local early care and education agenda
- Develop a statewide and regional network that supports the local communities and seeks state level change in policy and practice
- Foster instructional leadership.
Organized Discovery around 4 broad objectives
Unlike other states, Connecticut does not have a well developed regional or county system. Instead, it has 169 individual municipalities, each with it's own set of assets and challenges.
To account for this uniqueness, while still providing some guidance and structure, Discovery was organized around 4 objectives:
- to expand the supply of high quality early childhood education
- to increase the quality of existing early childhood education
- to build strong connections between early care and elementary education
- to improve studentsʼ social, emotional and academic performance
These objectives provided a menu for communities to choose from, but were not a prescriptive model.
Supported parent engagement and leadership
Active parent engagement -- at home, in the community, and in the state -- is a key ingredient of lasting policy change for children. Discovery's broad view of how parents contribute to change is represented in the "honeycomb" graphic, part of the Discovery Parent Voice in Action Guide. The guide was developed as a tool for Discovery community grantees to use in their efforts to listen to and collaborate with parents.
The work in communities was supported at the state level by Connecticut Parent Power, a parent led advocacy organization. Parent Power has fostered connections between parents and legislators and brought parents together around a shared set of priorities.
Offered small non-competitive, multi-year grants to 49 communities
Discovery grants were offered to 49 communities over a period of years in a non-competitive process. The intent was to meet communities where they are and not compare one community's progress to others. The Memorial Fund believed that the experience of local collaboratives would serve as an important foundation to shape early childhood policy and that a broad base of support across the state would be necessary to build critical mass.
Statewide and Regional Organizations
Funded a diverse group of statewide and regional organizations
Grants to statewide and regional organizations were designed to build capacity in the state through:
- Policy research
- Data analysis
- Developing systems change strategies
- Constituency building
- Community conversations
- Creating public information campaigns
These grants were intended to create a network of communications, research and advocacy support for local communities and build connections between the state and local advocates.
"High Need" Communities
Invited "high need" communities to participate in the initiative
The Memorial Fund invited all of the communities eligible for school readiness programs as determined by the Connecticut State Department of Education to participate in Discovery. Fourty-nine communities joined Discovery in 2001, representing more than half of the children in the state and including those living in some of the wealthiest as well as the poorest communities.
By 2009, public school K-12 data showed that more than 80% of students who receive free/reduced lunch and almost 90% of Connecticut's English language learners live in Discovery communities.
Invested in capacity building, technical assistance, and infrastructure, rather than programs
One of the lessons of Children First, a prior Memorial Fund initiative, was that grantees, acutely aware of the needs in their community, were inclined to use funds to provide services to address those needs.
Partly driven by resource limitations, given the large number of grantees, and partly to ensure that the funding in communities was used to change systems -- Discovery was designed differently. Communities received small grants and the Memorial Fund made a significant investment in building community capacity to support and influence policy.
Assigned a community liaison to each Discovery community
The Memorial Fund values, and had always fostered, direct relationships with its grantees. In the early months of Discovery, staff attempted to take on the role of on-site coach to the communities, providing customized, individual advice and information. They quickly learned that this would not work. The role was too time intensive and staff believed that their position as funder was interfering with the open communication needed to establish an effective coaching relationship.
The staff "fired" themselves and assigned a liaison to each community. The liaisons were a resource, a critical friend to communities, providing feedback, connecting communities to each other, and linking the Memorial Fund values and approach to the work in communities.
Community Dialogue Process
Supported a community dialogue process through grants for Community Conversations
In 1994, the Memorial Fund enlisted Public Agenda to understand how Connecticut residents viewed public education. The survey revealed a disconnect between the general public and educators in their views about education.
Subsequently, the Memorial Fund partnered with Public Agenda, The Institute for Educational Leadership, and the Connecticut League of Women Voters to develop Connecticut Community Conversations, a continuing program with the goal of involving citizens in defining and supporting community priorities for improving outcomes for children.
2001 - 2007
This phase of Discovery includes the launch of the initiative. The Memorial Fund supported collaboratives to develop a plan for 2004-2007. An array of technical assistance opportunities and peer and consultant supports were offered to the community groups as they established the collaborative and drafted their plans.
During this period, the Memorial Fund also provided funding and consultation to a group of statewide and regional grantee organizations.
Early Childhood Alliance
Supported the development of an early childhood consortium
When a study of Connecticut's advocacy landscape revealed some duplication and gaps in key areas, the Memorial Fund convened a group of early childhood stakeholders to think about how to strengthen and refine their collective voice. Over a period of years, the Memorial Fund worked with these stakeholders to establish the Early Childhood Alliance.
This network now includes more than 100 advocacy organizations, state agencies, community and parent representatives and funders working together on behalf of children.
Fostered and supported peer learning
Peer learning is a key ingredient in community growth and capacity. From the beginning of Discovery, all of the communities were regularly brought together to share their experiences and participate in workshops.
In 2003, the Memorial Fund began testing new formats to connect grantees and partners, through a grantee listserv, a website dedicated to Discovery, and through webinars, conference calls, and regional meetings.
In 2004, the first Stone Soup conference was offered, bringing all of the Discovery grantees together to hear and share new ideas and resources, work through challenges, and celebrate successes. This is now a well attended, energizing yearly tradition.
Supported community collaborative development
Collaboration is a core value of the Memorial Fund and a central piece of Discovery. Grantees are encouraged to work across a broad range of individuals and organizations to improve child outcomes.
Communities received support and technical assistance to build their local relationships and a collaborative table. The work of fostering relationships, getting the right people to the table, and structuring the collaborative took time and support.
The existence of established local collaboratives and their success in moving community agendas provided a foundation for a public-private partnership in 2007 between the Memorial Fund, the Early Childhood Education Cabinet, the Children’s Fund of Connecticut and the State Department of Education. The partnership funded comprehensive early childhood community planning efforts in 23 communities.
Responded to growing interest in establishing a statewide parent advocacy group
Three Discovery communities (formerly Children First grantees) had a vision for a statewide, parent led network that would advocate for children and families. Taken with this idea, the Memorial Fund provided funding and consultation for the development of Connecticut Parent Power.
Parent Power grew into a highly regarded statewide organization that works to engage, empower and mobilize parents to act on children's issues. Among other successful advocacy efforts, Parent Power worked with Discovery communities and the Connecticut Commission on Children on a bill that requires school districts to report on their efforts to increase parent involvement.
Parent Power is also an active member of the Early Childhood Alliance and helps connect parents with the public debate on state level policies affecting children.
Stone Soup Conference
Held an annual conference to convene Discovery communities and statewide partners
Discovery's annual conference, Stone Soup, takes its name from the folk tale about a man who wanders into a village and convinces villagers to each contribute a bit of food to the pot of soup he is making from a stone. The conference name is a metaphor for the Discovery initiative, but also characterizes the work of each community collaborative to build collective support.
Stone Soup began simply as a way to bring 49 communities together to celebrate their work and learn from each other. The focus of the conference was driven by communities. In 2008, Stone Soup expanded to include statewide grantees and brought in national experts and best practices. Later conferences were organized around topics such as early literacy, race and equity, and parent engagement. Attendance grew from about 140 in the early years to over 350 in later years. In each of its iterations, Stone Soup was the place for those working on early childhood, in different contexts, in communities and at the state level, to come together for a focused conversation.
EC Cabinet and Council
Supported the Early Childhood Cabinet and the Research and Policy Council
In 2005, Governor M. Jodi Rell sought legislation to establish the Connecticut Early Childhood Education Cabinet (the Cabinet) to evaluate the school readiness program and develop policy recommendations. The Early Childhood Research and Policy Council (the Council) was then created to support the Cabinet’s work. These entities were to lay the ground work for building a state-level early childhood system.
Executive Director David Nee co-chaired the Council, and the Memorial Fund contributed staff and funding to support this effort. The Council provided research, policy papers and policy analysis, and the work culminated in the development of a multi-year investment plan. However, implementation of this plan was derailed by the economic recession.
2008 - 2009
This phase represents the two year extension of Discovery with increased investment in community and statewide grantees. The Memorial Fund trustees encouraged staff to request increased investment to take advantage of a favorable policy climate and momentum for early childhood issues.
Also during this time, more than 300 parents, teachers, community leaders, advocates, early childhood providers, researchers, and other partners provided their perspectives on the Memorial Fund strategy for 2010-2014. This process led to the results statement (goal), "Connecticut children of all races and income levels are ready for school by age five and are successful learners by age nine."
Period of Enhanced Funding
Discovery extension and period of enhanced funding
Discovery was to conclude at the end of 2007. However, in 2006, the Board of Trustees invited the staff to consider extending Discovery to take advantage of increased momentum and a positive political climate for early childhood issues.
Staff developed a strategy for moving forward and the Trustees voted to extend the initiative through 2008. Discovery grew from an original investment of $16 million over 6 years to a total of more than $28 million over 8 years. This resulted in additional funding for:
- statewide organizations to collaborate;
- increased communications efforts;
- regional work;
- intensified capacity building efforts;
- funding partnerships;
- matching funding to the state to expand and support parent leadership and community planning.
Adjusted TA Strategy
Adjusted the strategy for delivering technical assistance support to communities
Discovery’s capacity building strategy was ambitious from the start. Implementing the strategy was challenging. It became clear that technical assistance offered through single session workshops attended by one community representative was difficult for participants to apply "on the ground."
As a result, beginning in 2008, technical assistance focused on 3 core capacities and was offered to community teams through multi-session workshop series. Workshops were delivered by expert organizations in each area:
Offered Regional Grants
In March 2007, Memorial Fund staff conducted four regional meetings to hear from community grantees. The purpose of these meetings was to test support for Discovery's core values and to hear from communities about how the 2008-2009 grant opportunities should be structured.
At each meeting, a recurring theme was the need for communities to work together. In response, the Memorial Fund offered additional funding for regional work and received 6 applications for support to do parent engagement, communications, data collection and other joint work. The applicants included 17 Discovery communities and 20 other Connecticut communities.
Supported collaboration among 4 statewide grantees
In 2008, the Memorial Fund targeted its support for advocacy to four “core” grantees: the Connecticut Association for Human Services, the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, Connecticut Parent Power, and Connecticut Voices for Children. These organizations received customized technical assistance both individually and as a group and additional funds to work on collaborative projects.
Each organization had received support over a number of years to build their skills and find their niche within the policy landscape. They had worked together before, but were now being encouraged to develop a unified approach and to, together, support the work in communities.
The result of this funding was a greater sense of collective purpose and a cross-organization, formal structure for supporting joint strategies. This joint work included a local and statewide communications campaign.
New Discovery Communities
Invited additional communities to participate in Discovery
At the outset of Discovery, all communities eligible for the State Department of Education’s School Readiness Program were invited to apply for Discovery grants. Over the course of the initiative, sixteen more communities became eligible for School Readiness funding.
In the fall of 2007, as part of an expansion strategy, the Memorial Fund invited all sixteen to a forum to discuss options for participating in Discovery. Five new communities chose to join the original 49 Discovery communities.
Offered to match state investments in leadership development and community planning
To stimulate state investment in community planning and parent engagement, the Memorial Fund offered to match new state investment in these areas. These funds were offered to support local collaboratives to develop or enhance a comprehensive community plan for young children, as well as to support the Parent Trust Fund’s parent leadership training grants.
In January 2008, 23 communities were funded through a public-private partnership of the Memorial Fund, the Early Childhood Education Cabinet, the Children’s Fund of Connecticut and the State Department of Education. The communities submitted their plans in June 2009. In 2010, the State once again accepted the match offer from the Memorial Fund.
Results Based Accountability
Adopted Results Based Accountability for the Memorial Fund's strategic planning
The Memorial Fund encouraged communities' use of Results Based Accountability (RBA) in their planning to support data driven decision-making, so that the plans would align with the language the State was applying to its own programs and funding. Though many communities described the RBA process as "difficult," even "painful," most also found it to be valuable. RBA prompts communities to start at the end (the result wanted for all children and families) and work back to the means (the strategies, actions, and programs to achieve the result). Communities continue to use indicators to measure progress and develop performance measures to answer the questions, "How much did we do?" "How well did we do it?" and "Is anyone better off?"
The Memorial Fund used RBA for its strategic planning, and designed a broad and inclusive process, with strong emphasis on partnership and
external input. Using RBA was challenging for the Memorial Fund, but ultimately helped staff to better understand how RBA works and what it takes to refine and enhance its support to grantees.
Supported a statewide early childhood communications campaign
In 2006, a group of community grantees, advocates and partners came together to coordinate messages and amplify voices. The group first commissioned public opinion research to understand voter attitudes in Connecticut, and subsequently, a communications campaign plan to which the Memorial Fund committed $1 million.
As the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance began to launch the campaign, the economic environment changed. Ultimately the Alliance launched a focused community-organizing approach to foster support for early childhood and help communities to use communications as an advocacy tool. It had many moving parts - helping communities reach out to elected officials; focusing media attention on early childhood; and organizing candidate forums, legislator tours of early childhood facilities, advocacy days, and “Children's Champion” events.
The Alliance also led the “I Care About Kids and I Vote” campaign to educate the public and candidates about early learning. The campaign helped create a unified voice on early childhood issues.
Greater Access to Community Data
Continued investing in data access and use
Developing measures and accessing local data is a challenge that the Memorial Fund has been grappling with since the early days of Discovery. Grantees say access is not just about having the information - it is about having it when you need it, being able to analyze it, understand it, and use it.
In 2009, the Memorial Fund partnered with state agencies, foundations and organizations to create a new approach to improving public access to data. The Connecticut Data Collaborative developed an internet-based Early Childhood Portal to provide users with interactive tools and easy access to data on young children, families, and the systems that serve them.
Keeping the data updated and turning it around quickly is challenging, however. It requires a high level of interagency coordination and staff time and expertise. The appetite for data continues to grow among communities and advocates.
Cost of Collaboration
Invested in documenting the costs of collaboration
Relationship building is at the core of Discovery. Collaboration is not free, though, and it does not just "happen," even when the right mix of people are seated at the table. Collaboration takes resources to bring people together, use data to support decision making, and keep work moving.
In 2005, the Early Childhood Research and Policy Council (the Council) released a multi-year investment plan for early childhood infrastructure. As support for a coordinated system grew, it was clear that policymakers needed to understand why the local collaborative work is important, what it costs, and what their role might be. To do this, the Memorial Fund commissioned Holt, Wexler & Farnam, LLP (HWF) to look at the roles, functions and scope of community-based local early childhood councils and offer recommendations about supporting local infrastructure.
Shifted to a broader learning agenda
Learning and knowledge development are part of the ethos of the Memorial Fund and its role as a learning organization has evolved over time. In 2010, the Memorial Fund shifted from third party evaluation to a broader learning agenda with multiple learning partners. Organizational learning tools include: reflection sessions, a collective assessment process, a dashboard process for sharing with trustees, and this decision timeline for reflecting and sharing with stakeholders.
The Memorial Fund strives to make its practice and learning public and to include the perspectives of partners and stakeholders. For example, program and support staff, the lead trustee and the executive director presented together at the national 2012 Council on Foundations Family Philanthropy conference.
- 2010Systems Building
- Supporting Home Care Providers
- Community Grant Options
- Early Literacy
- 2011Leveraging Investment
- 2012Focus on Equity
- Parent Access to Information
- Community Plans
- Capacity Building Partnerships
- Connecticut Center for School Change
- 2013Office of Early Childhood
- Learning Partnerships
- Storytelling and Measurement
- 2014Contributions to Field Building
- Transparency of Data
- Connecting Capacity Building
- University Partnerships
- 2015Planning for the Future
Planning for Next Phase
This phase of Discovery describes the implementation of the Discovery strategic plan for 2010-2014, with the results statement (goal), "Connecticut children of all races and income levels are ready for school by age five and are successful learners by age nine."
The strategic plan released in 2010 was a natural extension and refinement of the prior Discovery work. The strategies reflected the learning of the past decade while adapting to changes in the early childhood environment.
Made building an early childhood system the lead strategy for 2010-2014
During strategic planning, Discovery communities and advocates urged a sharper focus on system building. In the resulting plan, the Memorial Fund clearly articulated systems change as a primary goal, though it had been the implicit aim since Children First, a prior initiative. The systems approach assumes that supports for early childhood development must be embedded in the policies and practice of stakeholders at all levels to be sustained.
Community-based collaboration, local planning, and results-based decision-making, along with policy research and advocacy had become the foundation of Discovery. A key strategy was Right from the Start (RFTS), a convening of diverse stakeholders tasked with building a system that lifts up community voice and responds to key issues. As RFTS unfolded, the group had to adapt to a rapidly changing policy environment and connect to the core work of Discovery. The Memorial Fund was also challenged to maintain its role as convenor, distributing the responsibility and ownership.
Supporting Home Care Providers
Expanded All Our Kin support and training to providers outside of New Haven
All Our Kin is a New Haven-based organization that engages home based child care providers, helping them to sustain their own businesses and improve the quality of care. All Our Kin has increased the supply of quality home based childcare, supported working parents and providers - while opening the door to success for countless children.
The Memorial Fund provided support to expand All Our Kin's work to other Connecticut communities through:
Community Grant Options
Differentiated levels of support and responsibility in communities
As Discovery moved forward, all 54 Discovery communities were invited to apply for grants in 2010. Communities were invited to select one of three grant options, representing different types of community responsibility, levels of funding, and focused capacity building support options.
This structure was based on the Memorial Fund's commitment, even at a time of reduced funds, to support all communities in developing their infrastructure while adhering to its approach of meeting communities where they are. Offering grant options enabled communities to use the self-assessment process to understand their own readiness and to create a community plan at their own pace. It also helped the Memorial Fund to offer capacity building opportunities that were tailored to their level of readiness.
Engaged in public-private partnership for early literacy
Prior to this time, the Memorial Fund was exploring early literacy and sharing its findings. In 2010, the Memorial Fund partnered with The Annie E. Casey Foundation (The Casey Foundation), the Connecticut State Department of Education, and the Connecticut Center for School Change on an early literacy demonstration project. This project was intended to leverage, align and intensify the quality of community and school district joint literacy efforts. New Britain, the pilot community, received technical assistance and $100,000 per year in 2010 and 2011.
In 2012, five more communities were selected to participate. They were selected, in part, based on their strong relationship with their school district - a key factor in successful literacy efforts. The six were given technical assistance, and grants of up to $50,000. The Casey Foundation also provided them with access to materials and conferences from the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading.
Cultivated relationships with funders and partners who could support the Discovery network
The Memorial Fund used a constellation of strategies to attract additional state and local resources to the Discovery initiative. Attracting other funders with a shared interest in early childhood led to increased support for community planning, early literacy efforts, and parent leadership development. The Memorial Fund absorbed the cost to staff the state level funding collaborative management teams that enabled the partnerships to operate.
The most attractive tool for leveraging investment, however, comes from the shared contributions of the Memorial Fund, its partners and grantees - the creation of a multi-level, broad and inclusive local and statewide network. The network of organizations and relationships enables funders to more easily tap into early childhood efforts to advance related issues like early literacy, health, and parent engagement.
Focus on Equity
Embraced race and economic equity in defining the overall goal of Discovery
Race and economic disparity have always been important issues in Discovery. The 2010-2014 Strategic Plan more explicitly lifted up these issues. The Memorial Fund began an internal conversation about race and looked to a key partner to provide technical assistance to communities. Some examples of this work included:
- Partnering with Everyday Democracy to help communities address the challenges related to race and income disparity;
- Supporting Right From the Start, a Connecticut systems building network that has made race and economic disparities key issues in designing an early childhood system;
- Working with University of Hartford to find new ways to reach out to a diverse group of parents through the Parent Information Action project; and
- Selecting the impact of race and economic status on early childhood as the topic for the 2013 Stone Soup Conference, Discovery's annual convening.
Parent Access to Information
Engaged in Parent Information Action Research with University of Hartford
During its strategic planning listening forums, the Memorial Fund heard from communities that parent information was an area needing attention. After further inquiry, the Parent Information Action Research project was launched. It began with a grant to the University of Hartford in 2011 to work with ten parent co-researchers from five Discovery communities. Together they developed an issue guide, in partnership with the Kettering Foundation, to help communities talk about nurturing children. The co-researchers also created community action projects to address some of the challenges facing parents.
An issue guide in Spanish and English is being distributed in Connecticut and through the National Issues Forum in 2013. The learning partnership later expanded to include Connecticut Community Conversations, with parents being trained as moderators to facilitate conversations in their communities. The inquiry continues through the Parent Inquiry Initiative created at the University of Hartford.
Supported the development and implementation of comprehensive early childhood community plans
In 2008, the Memorial Fund entered into a public-private partnership to support early childhood planning in 23 Discovery communities. Through this partnership, communities received intensive technical assistance, peer networking opportunities, and consultant support to convene a broad and diverse group of community stakeholders charged with developing a comprehensive, data-driven early childhood plan.
By 2013, 40 of the 52 Discovery communities were engaged in planning or had developed a plan. The recognition of the importance of this work has led to state and national partnerships that have brought more resources and technical assistance to the communities. These have focused on early literacy, health, prek-3rd grade alignment, and parent information.
Capacity Building Partnerships
Modified capacity building to provide opportunities for co-designed offerings with community and co-funding partners
Capacity Building has been the core of the Discovery initiative support for communities since its inception. In recent years, the Memorial Fund shifted its capacity building approach, adding new offerings to the menu of technical assistance supports and providing opportunities for partners to co-sponsor offerings. This process has been evolutionary in response to learning and community needs.
Most recently, the Memorial Fund is co-designing capacity building offerings in communities with multiple funders, its own grantee organizations, the Child Health and Development Institute, Everyday Democracy, and state agencies, including the State Department of Education. This approach represents a significant shift for the Memorial Fund and opens up new opportunities for Discovery community and statewide advocacy grantees.
Connecticut Center for School Change
Tapped CCSC’s Expertise to Foster Connections between Collaboratives and Districts
With Memorial Fund support, the Connecticut Center for School Change (CCSC) has worked with school district professionals to develop their instructional and organizational leadership for more than a decade. Over the course of Discovery, the Memorial Fund has sought ways to connect CCSC’s K-12 school district level efforts and the community collaborative work.
District relationships are essential to the success of Discovery community efforts, and were sometimes difficult to establish. The Memorial Fund’s strategic focus on early literacy success provided an opportunity to more closely align the efforts of the school district and the early childhood collaborative. Discovery Liaisons and CCSC staff work together to facilitate relationships between the school districts and the Discovery collaboratives and bridge district and collaborative efforts so they align with the community early childhood plan. This work became the foundation for community engagement in the Annie E. Casey foundation Grade Level Reading Campaign.
Office of Early Childhood
Supported a partnership to establish the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood to coordinate programs and funding
The Memorial Fund’s 2010-2014 strategic plan featured building an early childhood system as the lead strategy. In 2010 and 2011, a series of events transpired that hastened the pace of the systems work. A supportive governor and legislature and a coordinated statewide advocacy effort with support from the national BUILD Initiative, led to passing legislation to plan and develop a comprehensive early childhood system.
The Early Childhood Funders Collaborative then supported state staff in meeting the legislative planning requirements. A coalition of education advocates, funders, community collaboratives, and the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, led by the Early Childhood Alliance, worked together to advance the creation of the Office of Early Childhood in 2013. The Memorial Fund has committed $1 million over 2 years to support this office and develop a public/private “backbone organization” to sustain systems integration.
Engaged in Partnerships that Broadened Discovery and Fostered a Learning Network
Throughout Discovery, the Memorial Fund has cultivated relationships to support Discovery partners and grantees. At the heart of these relationships is a commitment to learning while doing and striving to be a "learning organization amongst learning communities" within a broader learning network. This approach has become more formalized through investments in learning partnerships, where participants are committed to making learning part of the collaborative process and sharing that learning publicly.
Projects with state and national partners have produced information for communities, the organizations supporting them, and funders through documentation projects, reports, and video. For example, Right from the Start, a statewide partnership, convened a group of stakeholders to develop a common vision and core issues. The Parent Information partnership, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, has developed a guide to spark community dialogue. Long–term co-funding public and private partnerships have enhanced planning and capacity support for community collaboratives.
Storytelling and Measurement
Exploring ways to blend storytelling and measurement
A deep appreciation for story guides the Memorial Fund's approach to grantmaking. The Memorial Fund logo, a storyteller, captures this ethos. Storytelling is viewed as a means for expressing values, making meaning of and sharing experience, and illustrating intentions and outcomes. Measurement and working with data are also tools for exploring and illustrating a broader context. The Memorial Fund is now delving into the role of story and measurement in change efforts.
The melding of storytelling and measurement can be found at all levels of Discovery. Community collaboratives use results-based accountability to develop and implement community blueprints. RBA encourages users to look for the story behind the data to create strategies to support children. The Memorial Fund also supported a study that looked at early childhood program quality of and access through a parent lens. Internally, the Memorial Fund developed a Dashboard format to reflect measurable change in strategic areas, as well as compelling indications of change that may not be measurable.
Contributions to Field Building
Supported enhanced philanthropic effectiveness by shaping practice
The Memorial Fund strives to be a learning organization and to foster a culture of reflection within the Discovery network and among partners. As Discovery evolved, opportunities emerged for a more broad based approach that focused on enhancing the effectiveness of other funders and groups working on behalf of young children. Through the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, for example, the Memorial Fund worked with the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy and funders to promote the importance of collaboration among foundations and improve the practice of collective action and grantmaking.
Another aspect of field building is fostering information exchange and influencing practice. Support for the Collective Impact Forum and its Funder community of practice, which shares knowledge, networks and tools that support collective impact, provides Discovery grantees and partners access to these resources. The Memorial Fund also hopes to shape this emerging field so that it embraces both community experience and an equity lens in collective impact initiatives.
Encouraging and supporting the development of the necessary infrastructure to sustain momentum
The systems strategy is based on the belief that supports for early childhood development are only sustainable if they are embedded in the policies and practice of stakeholders at all levels. For the Discovery work at the local and state levels, sustainability means having the infrastructure needed to sustain an agenda and to work collaboratively to move that agenda forward.
Throughout Discovery, strategies were employed not only to expand the support for early childhood, but also to create opportunities for collective decision-making about resources and priorities, guided by a shared vision for Connecticut's early childhood system. The Memorial Fund has also encouraged Discovery communities to focus on their long-term sustainability, by requiring matching funds, as well as through workshops and one-on-one consultation and technical assistance.
Transparency of Data
Invested in building state and local capacity to share and use data
The Memorial Fund believes in the power of data to tell a story that moves people to action, and it invests in building state and local data capacity. Through capacity building efforts, grantmaking and partnerships with the state and data experts, the Memorial Fund has focused on making data available, understandable, and usable.
This work has contributed to a growing commitment by the State to making data more transparent. In addition, increased community capacity to use data has helped to influence policy and leverage investment in priorities for young children.
Connecting Capacity Building
Creating a seamless framework of opportunities to support communities
The capacity building support for communities has continually evolved throughout Discovery in response to new partnerships and opportunities, the growth of community capacity, and learning about what works. Capacity building evolved from "home grown," customized technical assistance to multi-session institute models delivered by organizations with expertise in the subject. In 2012, the Memorial Fund shifted its approach again, adding new technical assistance offerings and co-designing offerings with partner funders and state agencies.
In 2014, though many of the offerings and partnerships remained the same, the focus was on eliminating silos and creating a seamless experience for communities. In some instances, this meant expanding partnerships, such as taking on the role of state lead for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. In other instances, this meant stepping back and allowing partners with content expertise to take the lead. In each case, the goal was to support a variety of opportunities for community development that were connected as part of a seamless framework.
Connecting university scholars with Discovery community members, partners, and parents
Since 2010, the Memorial Fund has worked with Connecticut-based university scholars as one approach to its knowledge development agenda. Through these relationships, the Memorial Fund supported internal inquiry and projects with community members, parents, and advocates as active learning partners - from asking the initial questions to sharing the findings. Five universities took up this partnership, each with a very different project and path to engagement.
These partnerships had value for the Memorial Fund and the Discovery communities and partners, as well as for the participating universities. They have contributed to foundation and community capacity, raised up parent voice, as well as leveraged funding and begun to foster a deeper understanding of what sparks parent engagement and community change. Moving forward, university partners will share lessons among themselves and with the field about what they learned through this approach.
Planning for the Future
Looking back and looking ahead
Initially intended to conclude in 2007, Discovery was ultimately a 14 year initiative. This period saw great triumphs in early childhood investment and policy change, amplifying parent and community voice, and the development of a cohesive network of champions working together on behalf of young children.
In 2014, led by a new executive director and several new trustees, the Memorial Fund has begun to plan for the future. The Graustein family, staff and trustees are engaging in a comprehensive strategic planning process that will direct the Memorial Fund's focus and course in the coming years. Though the underlying values that have always guided Memorial Fund decisions remain in place, this period marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Memorial Fund.