Emerging findings from the implementation evaluation of A Better Start conducted by the Warwick Consortium reveal the key factors that ensured the successful design, set up and initial implementation of the programme, in the complex early years system in which it operates.
A report highlighting learning from the planning and delivery of pregnancy and early years services in the five ABS areas, identifies a number of learning points across four key areas:
1. Building Partnerships
Delivery organisations in all five ABS sites found the bid development phase critically important to plan for high quality implementation. This stage enabled them to fully understand and articulate the ABS vision and approach. It also allowed them to build partnerships across local services and the VCS sector, including appointing a lead partner with the profile and expertise to secure local buy-in. Development funding to build capacity helped to create strong partnerships that are committed to working collaboratively and create systemic change to improve outcomes for children.
2. Community Engagement
The sites developed a range of approaches to engage parents and other community members in designing and running the programme in ways that are meaningful to them. This ranged from formal membership of local planning committees, to service design and commissioning, to providing accessible information about the programme to community groups. Ongoing training opportunities were provided to involve service users in decision-making, and engagement was sustained by encouraging core groups of representatives to get involved in more formal ABS structures.
3. Embedding ABS in Local Places
The place-based approach—focusing on the uniqueness of each sites, and the people and histories that have shaped local pregnancy and Early Child Development services—is a defining characteristic of ABS. To ensure the programme is embedded in each of the sites and can achieve systems change, local decision-makers were involved in governance. Appropriate, evidence-based frameworks to underpin service design, and professional peer networks to support local programme staff are also key to success.
4. The Workforce
Staff at all levels were engaged to challenge the working culture and ensure vision and outcomes were aligned to bring about system change. This included reflecting the vision and ethos of ABS in job descriptions and daily work; working flexibly and adapting communications to contextual changes; tailoring the level of engagement to staff roles; and providing ongoing training on the programme.
The report contains more detail about learning points from each of these themes which are of relevance to strategic and operational professionals working in the field of pregnancy and Early Child Development (ECD), and/or those working towards place-based system change within children’s services more widely.