Framework Overview

Start here for an introduction to the IDEAS Framework


Decades of research have shown it’s possible to improve outcomes for children and families facing adversity. However, the effects have generally been modest and haven’t improved over time.

Why is that the case? Part of the problem is that conventional approaches to program development and evaluation are holding us back.

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Reflection Question

Based on your experience, what are the barriers to improving the effectiveness of programs and services for young children and families facing adversity?

Issue: Typical research methods reveal how programs work on average for those who receive them.
Issue: Conventional approaches to evaluation tend to focus on proving rather than learning and improving.
Issue: New programs, products, and services are often developed without input from practitioners and community members.
Issue: Program developers and innovators tend to work in isolation.


We’ve designed the IDEAS Impact Framework to help address the challenges listed above.

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IDEAS stands for

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to solve unmet challenges

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a clear and precise theory of change

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the theory of change

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through fast-cycle iteration

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promising programs

Critical Questions

Using the Framework allows us to go beyond whether an intervention works on average to ask critical questions, including:

What about it works?

If we understand the key ingredients, we are better able to replicate them.

How does it work?

Being specific about the underlying mechanisms can help us increase the impact.

For whom does it work, and for whom does it not work?

When we know who is and isn’t responding, we can make targeted adaptations to improve the outcomes.

In what contexts does it work?

If we evaluate the context in which it was implemented, we can better adapt the intervention for other settings.

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Each of these questions points us toward the ultimate pursuit of the IDEAS Impact Framework:

How can we build better programs that achieve greater outcomes for more young children and their families?

Guiding PRinciples

The Framework includes four guiding principles, which are concepts and ways of working that address common challenges to achieving improved impact.

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Click through the principles to learn more and view videos


Having a clear understanding of what a program entails and how it has an impact

What about it works? How does it work? For whom and in what contexts? The IDEAS Framework described in this toolkit can help you move from having a hunch about how a program works toward developing hypotheses that can be tested to drive the ongoing development of the program and demonstrate its efficacy. Furthermore, the knowledge generated can contribute to a broader understanding of risk, resilience, and change that will benefit the field.


The IDEAS Impact Framework: Precision

Members of teams who have worked with the IDEAS Impact Framework as part of the Frontiers of Innovation initiative explain their understanding and use of the principle of precision in their work.

Fast-Cycle Iteration


Shared Learning

Find more resources on these Guiding Principles here.

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Reflection Question

What are you doing now that aligns with these guiding principles? How else might you put these principles into action?

Three Components

The guiding principles can be put into action through these three key components:

Theory of Change


Program Development

These tools—a clear theory of change, an evaluation plan closely tied to this ToC, and ongoing program development—work in reciprocal and mutually informative ways to move your program forward in accordance with the guiding principles. A key way to implement the co-creation principle is to consider who is included as you develop all three components.

We’ll follow this example throughout the toolkit:

See how the El Busesito mobile preschool program used the IDEAS Impact Framework to drive toward greater impact.

El Busesito (the Little Bus) is a mobile preschool program developed by Valley Settlement, an organization that provides an array of programs designed by and for the Latinx immigrant community in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. The El Busesito fleet of “little buses” provides bilingual preschool education to nearly 100 students who might otherwise have no access to preschool. Parents are engaged as partners in their child’s education through monthly volunteering, home visits, and three Family Nights each year. Why a bus? When Valley Settlement community organizers first interviewed families in 2011 and 2012, they found that fewer than 1% of preschool-age children in under-resourced Latinx families in the valley were enrolled in preschool. Transportation was cited as a common barrier. Mobile buses reduce the barrier of transportation and provide flexibility to adjust to changing community needs. This process of engaging deeply with the community to identify and address unmet needs is an excellent example of co-creation.

Since 2018, the team at Valley Settlement has used the IDEAS Framework to engage in fast-cycle iteration across all of their programs, including El Busesito. Learn more about how this team has engaged with the three components of the Framework in each of the following sections.

El Busesito IDEAS Impact teacher & students inside bus