Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

We here in the Innovation Lab recently launched our second “Innovation Challenge” to CAP employees. These challenges are meant to leverage the creativity of all of our staff so that we can identify problems and solutions that would never have occurred to us in the safety of the group cube. Our last challenge sought ideas about building strong connections among the people we serve: What challenges do we face that could be solved by building better connections between the people we serve?

The motivation behind the latest challenge was T.J. Sexton’s research into social networks and “co-production.” “These relationships build connections among families and enlist them as partners to contribute their creativity and ambitions in achieving our shared goals.”

Upon my recommendation, T.J. ordered a book I’d heard about called Unanticipated Gains, which reviews the benefits of social connections at child care centers. Since I suspect he’s taking his time wading through it (T.J. being a very busy innovator), I thought I’d help out and link to a video interview with the book’s author, Mario Small.

Allow Early Ed Watch to provide you the summary:

In the video, Small says that he found that mothers with children in childcare centers were less depressed and exchanged more information about child rearing. They also found out about resources like health clinics and museums that catered to children. Instead of being thought of as simple drop-off spots for babysitting, Small argues, “the centers have quite a few benefits for the social networks and social well-being of the mothers.”

Small talks, too, about how certain characteristics of centers can encourage or discourage parents to get to know each other. For example, he says, child care centers that set specific drop-off and pick-up times are better at enabling parents to meet, talk and compare experiences.

Small mentions that parents with children at child care centers had more friends than other disadvantaged parents. I’m not sure of the extent to which this is really true within our own early childhood program, based on some surveys I’ve conducted, but that’s the point of the innovation challenge: we want to identify problem areas that would benefit from stronger connections between parents. If you work for CAP, read about the challenge on InsideCAP and submit an idea to us. (Soon! The deadline is tomorrow.) If you don’t, you are always welcome to contribute your ideas as comments right here.


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Just last week the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Center for Social Innovation hosted a roundtable for the newly-created White House Office on Social Innovation.  Headed by Sonal Shah, formerly of Google, the Office of Social Innovation seeks to develop new funding for social innovation, expand national service, increase civic participation through new media, and develop new partnerships both within the federal bureacracy and with private partners. 

Seeing this raises two thoughts for me – on the one hand, it’s easy to think “Maybe I should pack up and move to the coast, where there’s lots of innovation experience to learn from and energy to inspire.”  On the other hand, some of what the new White House office wants to do aligns with what Innovation Lab here at CAP is all about – especially the part about building partnerships and using “new” media (i.e. this blog).  And then I feel good that we’re on a good track, a track that may be more established elsewhere but is nonetheless just as critical to have outside the typical hotbeds of innovation. 

As Garth Saloner, incoming dean at Stanford’s Business School said at the roundtable, “The scarcity is not in the ideas, the scarcity is in the organizaitonal capacity to help grow these ideas.”  CAP and Innovation Lab believe this capacity is needed not just in Silicon Valley or Washington, D.C., but right here in Tulsa as well, and we’re proud to be a part of it.

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A group out of New Haven, CT called Innovations for Poverty Action is evaluating anti-poverty programs around the globe to determine what works and what doesn’t. In their words:

Innovations for Poverty Action applies rigorous research techniques to test and develop solutions to real-world problems faced by the poor in developing countries.

Great. The anti-poverty world (whether we’re talking domestic or international poverty) needs as much information as it can get about what works and what doesn’t. And their roster of researchers is impressive enough that I trust their findings.

There are quite a few of these sorts of initiatives going on right now. I can name four off the top of my head, without even resorting to Google: MDRC (originally the Manpower Development Research Corporation), Mathematica Policy Research, the Center for What Works, and Edutopia.

It seems to me that the challenge before us has shifted. Access to skilled evaluators has been greatly expanded, as has awareness by funders that they have to start including evaluation costs in their grantmaking. It’s no longer about whether we should, how to, or who can evaluate promising programs. The problem is diffusing that information and enabling replication of successful models. (more…)

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No, “T-shaped” people are not anatomically deformed nor extraterrestial beings. I came across the term in the excellent book The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley:

At IDEO, we’ve found that some of our most valuable Cross-Pollinators are what we call “T-shaped” individuals. That is, they enjoy a breadth of knowledge in many fields, but they also have depth in at least one area of expertise.  (p. 75)


T-shaped people are excellent at “cross-pollinating” between disciplines and ways of thinking. Their breadth of knowledge allows them to apply insights and innovations from other fields to another (usually to their area of expertise). Kelley recommends making a point of hiring individuals with this trait, but I might add that organizations could also do a better job of identifying and supporting the ones that are already there.

I started thinking about the T-shaped people that I know and it occurred to me that non-profits are natural magnets for this trait. (more…)

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The More the Merrier

In an attempt to keep my head above water, I am simply going to post to this article without further comment:

Unboxed: For Innovators, There is Brainpower in Numbers,” New York Times. December 7, 2008.

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So, it’s true, it takes exactly the amount of time that you’ve been away to get caught up once you’re back and then some. This brings me to today and I can finally share some experience and reflection on the TI trip to Boston last week. It was probably one of the most memorable and incredible experiences I’ve ever had and it wasn’t even vacation. Warning: This is a long post but it serves many purposes. The main reason being that I want to avoid retelling my experience 100x and it was amazing. Feel free to skim or skip but I refuse to tell this in neat bullet points. I’ve written and rewritten this post in my head, but now I just need to start. (more…)

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I’ve heard of child-care and home school coops before, but not this. A letter to the editor in yesterday’s Washington Post praises D.C.’s cooperative play program:

The major reason the children are doing so well is that all of the parents at the program are active participants in the education of their children. Parents at each school go through the same criminal and health screenings that paid professionals undergo, and because parents volunteer every day, each site needs only one teacher to maintain a high adult-to-child ratio, a hallmark of successful preschool programs. The participation of parents, along with the sponsorship of the city, also makes the preschool co-op play program affordable. Many private preschools are out of reach for low-income and middle-class families. Combined with the significant benefits of parental engagement, the preschool co-op play program is a valuable resource for parents of all incomes.

The program is open to children aged 18 months to 5 years and runs from 9am to noon every school day. Every parent must volunteer one day per child weekly (though this requirement is usually softened) and commit to regularly attending Parent Board meetings. The cost is $7 per day or $1,176 per school year.

The difference here is that it combines some of the benefits of a coop (parent involvement, cost control) with the quality of center-based care (certified professionals, low adult-child ratios), while remaining accessible to working parents. I imagine even full-time workers could arrange a work schedule that allowed for the 3 hours per week of volunteering.

How could this apply to CAP, which runs a no-cost childcare program? One idea that comes to my mind is trying this program for before- or after-care.

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