Grounded in Data: An Evaluation of the Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Network

Posted February 26, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Woman reads to child in a day-care setting.

Photo credit: Jason E. Miczek for the Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Net­work — which counts mem­bers from every state, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Puer­to Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Islands — has spent near­ly 30 years help­ing orga­ni­za­tions con­nect and use data to pro­mote smarter poli­cies for kids and families.

Now, a new study has moved this net­work under the micro­scope, exam­in­ing data from all 53 KIDS COUNT Net­work mem­bers. The infor­ma­tion gath­ered paints a detailed pic­ture of the net­work, which cham­pi­ons col­lab­o­ra­tion to ensure that states have access to good data and then use it to dri­ve good policy.

The study, com­mis­sioned by the Foun­da­tion and pro­duced by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado Denver’s Cen­ter on Net­work Sci­ence, found that the net­work earns high marks in all three areas that the researchers iden­ti­fied as hall­marks of strong, well-func­tion­ing net­works. These are:

  1. a diverse range of mem­bers who inject an array of per­spec­tives, resources and exper­tise into the work;
  2. a trust­ed lev­el of inter­con­nect­ed part­ner­ships among mem­bers; and
  3. high lev­els of com­mit­ment and buy-in among mem­bers in terms of the network’s progress and goals.

Oth­er fac­tors that have con­tributed to the KIDS COUNT Network’s suc­cess, accord­ing to the study, include Casey’s lead­er­ship and facil­i­ta­tion, a steer­ing com­mit­tee that offers struc­ture and gov­er­nance, and peer learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, trust and support.

Almost all mem­bers report­ed sat­is­fac­tion with the part­ner­ships they’ve formed so far as well as with the network’s capac­i­ty for devel­op­ing and shar­ing resources.

This study demon­strates how the net­work has evolved into a sys­tem that is greater than the sum of its indi­vid­ual mem­bers,” says Casey Senior Asso­ciate Jann Jack­son, who works close­ly with KIDS COUNT as part of the Foundation’s Pol­i­cy Reform and Advo­ca­cy team.

The research also shows the pow­er of the net­work approach, espe­cial­ly when paired with the abil­i­ty to learn from peers over time, accord­ing to Kim­ber­ly Spring, the Foundation’s direc­tor of research and eval­u­a­tion. The network’s ground­ing in data on chil­dren and young peo­ple — which is what brings them togeth­er — makes it a very nat­ur­al next step for them to use data to guide their own learn­ing and mea­sure their work,” Spring explains. 

The group is increas­ing­ly using net­work rela­tion­ships to achieve spe­cif­ic leg­isla­tive and pol­i­cy out­comes that incor­po­rate racial equi­ty and inclu­sion. Says Jack­son: The goal is to have equi­ty not only in out­comes but also in prac­tice, so that com­mu­ni­ties of col­or are more involved in the actu­al work of devel­op­ing policies.”

Read more about the evo­lu­tion of the KIDS COUNT Network

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