Reimagining Program Development and Evaluation

A toolkit for innovators in the field of early childhood


To achieve breakthrough outcomes for young children and families facing adversity, we need a structured but flexible approach that facilitates program development, evaluation, and fast-cycle iteration.

The IDEAS Impact Framework provides that approach, drawing on existing research and development tools and applying them in new ways to set a higher bar for program development and evaluation.

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IDEAS Stands for:

  • Innovate
  • Develop
  • Evaluate
  • Adapt
  • Scale

Who it’s for

This toolkit is meant to be a self-guided, self-paced training, ideal for anyone involved in the development, implementation, or evaluation of programs for children and families and interested in learning how to go beyond the best of what the field has achieved so far. The suggested activities can be completed individually but are best done as a team.

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Past users have come from various settings, including:

  • Community-based Organizations
  • Early Childhood Startups
  • Non-profits
  • Philanthropic Organizations
  • Policy/Systems Settings
  • Universities
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A Note About Language

Innovative supports for children and the adults who care for them come in many forms, including programs (like home visiting or parenting groups), professional development for early learning providers, services (like counseling or case management), and products (like educational toys, games, and apps). Throughout this toolkit, we use the words “program,” but the IDEAS Impact Framework can be applied to a wide range of innovations.


Since 2015, the IDEAS Impact Framework has helped innovators in the field of early childhood development gain critical skills and knowledge.

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In this toolkit you’ll find information on how to:

Apply four guiding principles to achieve greater impact

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Develop a clear and precise theory of change (ToC)

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Design an evaluation to investigate your ToC

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Engage in fast-cycle iteration to drive ongoing program improvement

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How to use the toolkit

If you are new to the IDEAS Framework, we recommend you review the content in order, starting with the Framework Overview.

Within each section, you’ll find materials to review, questions to reflect on independently or discuss
with your team, illustrative examples, downloadable templates, and related resources.

The time commitment will vary depending on your interests, needs, and bandwidth. We estimate that
it would take the average reader about an hour to read through the content on the site, but engaging
as a team with the various tools and resources could take considerably longer. For example, drafting a
Theory of Change typically takes 2-3 hours, as does drafting an Evaluation plan. The time needed to
review existing data to inform ongoing program development can vary considerably depending on
the quantity and type of data available. 

The Framework was truly transformative for us on many levels. It has impacted all aspects of how we approach evaluation–our assessment tools, how we collect data, when we collect data, and how we use it.

O IDEAS Impact Framework foi extremamente útil para orientar o projeto e a melhoria contínua do Programa BEM. Dois conceitos foram vitais. O primeiro foi saber que aprenderíamos com o que funcionou e o que não funcionou…. O segundo foi o princípio da iteração de ciclo rápido. Foi a primeira vez que a equipe aplicou uma metodologia baseada em testes, aprendizado e refinamento contínuo que nos possibilitou inovar dentro do prazo e do orçamento.

The IDEAS Impact Framework was extremely helpful to guide the design and continuous improvement of Programa BEM. Two concepts were vital. The first was the notion that we could learn not only from what worked, but also from what didn’t work… The second was the principle of fast-cycle iteration. It was the first time that the team applied a methodology based on testing, learning, and refining rapidly, and it enabled us to innovate on time and on budget.

Over the course of our 22-year-old history, Raising A Reader has had several independent evaluations demonstrate the success of our Classic Red Book Bag program and its impact on improving and sustaining home literacy environments. Through our work with the IDEAS Framework, however, we recognized that our theory of change was missing large components of what we do, such as community capacity-building and professional development in early childhood development…. With our updated theory of change, we are now better poised to implement the other components of the IDEAS Framework.

O IDEAS Impact Framework foi uma abordagem metodológica essencial para o desenvolvimento do programa Fortalecendo Laços, desde a ideação de como resolver um problema até a solução por meio da criação de um programa baseado em evidências científicas…. No início, tivemos que mudar a mentalidade para entender melhor o IDEAS Framework e como incorporar seus conceitos em nosso projeto… Esse desafio foi muito fácil de enfrentar porque o IDEAS compreende uma estrutura clara e definições operacionais precisas, permitindo-nos melhorar o cuidado metodológico do nosso estudo e a interpretação de nossos achados.

The IDEAS Impact Framework was an essential methodological approach for developing the Strengthening Bonds program –from the early ideation to solve a problem, until the solution of creating a scientific evidence-based program… In the beginning, we had to change the mindset to better understand the IDEAS Framework and how to incorporate its concepts into our project… This challenge was very easy to face because IDEAS has a clear structure and precise operational definitions, allowing us to improve the methodological care of our study and the interpretation of our findings.

Although the TOP strategies, targets, and outcomes were already developed, placing them in this new model (theory of change) gave us more insight into the mechanisms of the TOP Program…. The ToC and fidelity tool have also become the framework for our educational programs. This helped our interventionists to get better insights in how to transfer the key intervention strategies into practice.

IDEAS nos obligó a ir al campo de trabajo, a escuchar a las personas, observar, intuir, mirar el contexto a inspirarnos, en lugar de hacer todo el trabajo en el escritorio, con la tentación de reportar éxito y justificación de las acciones.

The IDEAS Framework brought us into the field, to listen to people, to observe, to intuit, to look at the context for inspiration, instead of doing all the work at our desks, with the temptation to report only the successes and to justify all our actions.

Let’s get started

New to the framework?

We suggest exploring the toolkit in order, starting from the Framework Overview.

Familiar with the framework?

If you’ve had previous training in IDEAS, feel free to head straight to the content you’re looking for.