Implementation Science

Evidence for Scale – Implementing Quality Education and Child Development Programs at Large Scale in Global Contexts

The Context:

This will be the second medium-sized conference hosted by the Global TIES team and the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, and will focus on the challenge of and processes leading to successful and high quality large-scale policy and systems change to improve child and youth development at the national level. Global efforts to improve quality in education, health care and social protection programs are urgently needed. For example, despite huge increases in access to primary education since the 1990 Dakar meeting that set forth the first Education for All goals, the quality of primary education in far too many countries and contexts (i.e., conflict, disaster) have remained low, and consequently children’s learning has not been improved sufficiently. In the area of early childhood development services, the measurement, monitoring, and support for quality are at an early stage of development, whether one considers preprimary education or family support / parenting programs. In other words, increased access to such services has not resulted in commensurate large-scale improvements in children’s health and learning outcomes. In response, national and global goals have shifted to focus on ensuring both the quality of social programs, and that such programs are effective “at scale” – that is, for a majority of people within countries.

From the perspective of research, there are many gaps in informing how quality education and child development programming at scale can occur, in specific country and cultural contexts. When small-scale demonstration or pilot initiatives “go to scale” and are expanded to cover populations at regional or national scale, the positive effects are often lost. Research does not usually track exactly why this might occur.  Is the lack of sustained positive effects at scale, for example, due to a failure in the adaptation to new cultural or linguistic contexts?  Is it a failure in maintaining human and administrative capacity when transitioning to a larger or different workforce? Or weaknesses in monitoring and training to support effective implementation? Or is variation in the quality of services due to several of these factors?

Similarly, when systems are already at scale but require quality improvements, research also has a critical role to play but is often underutilized. Primary education in many low-income countries has already “gone to scale” nationally with much higher rates of enrollment than prior to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Yet the quality of education is not sufficient in most of these countries to support effective learning, across cognitive, language, math, and social and emotional domains. Research on actual quality improvement initiatives, as well as approaches to monitoring and data systems that can inform strategies to improve quality, must advance to ensure quality improvement of large-scale systems such as public education; preprimary education; or early child health and development programs such as perinatal health, nutrition, parenting or home visiting initiatives.

Our Approach:

Convene: Bring together leading experts in the field of policy implementation to

  • explore circumstances in which programs for children and youth are more or less likely to be implemented with quality at national scale;
  • examine cutting-edge methods for how to assess and track improvements in the quality of systems that implement policies and programs relevant to child and youth development, across areas of health, education and social protection;
  • discuss implications for how nations can invest in providing access to high-quality health care, education and poverty reduction/social protection services to all children, youth and families.

Learn: Collaboratively map several pathways through which research can play a role in implementing education, health care, and other social programs with quality at national scale;


Collaborate: Forge, encourage, and foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and learning around research on implementing high quality of social programs to improve children’s development at scale.

In order to meet these goals, conference sessions will be structured around the following questions. In each of these question areas, a small number of proposed principles will be discussed so that the end product and synthesis paper will include actionable guidelines for policy makers, program administrators, and researchers.

  1. Does research suggest that certain types of programs are easier to expand / take to scale with quality than others?
  2. What types of training systems are needed to improve the quality of education at scale?
  3. What data systems are needed to identify critical needs and ensure ongoing monitoring of quality implementation at scale?
  4. Can Continuous Quality Improvement approaches improve child outcomes at national scale?
  5. What are the governance structures that support quality implementation of child and youth programs and policies, and what financing systems foster high quality implementation at scale?
  6. How can technological innovation support implementation of child and youth programs and policies at scale, and simultaneously be used for monitoring and evaluation?
The Project Team:

Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Alice Wuermli, Larry Aber