Key Points

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation is investing in a 10-year strategy, Starting Smart and Strong, that partners with three California communities to develop and test solutions to support parents, caregivers, and educators as they prepare children to be ready for school. Central to this strategy are community efforts to create comprehensive early learning systems that model quality teaching practices, secure and ensure adequate distribution of resources, and have capacity to improve, innovate, and scale.

One of the challenges in systems evaluation is identifying meaningful indicators of interim progress toward longer-term change. From the start, the evaluation has been learning through interviews and observations how each community is approaching systems development. The evaluation team used those learnings and a literature review to inform the development of the Formal- System Self-Assessment Tool. To date, there has not been a quantitative tool that assesses community progress in this arena that also allows users to reflect on their work and develop data-informed strategies for deepening impact.

This article explores how and why the three California communities and the Foundation have found the Formal-System Self-Assessment Tool to be a useful guide for focusing their efforts and creating greater understanding of their advancement. It also shares the tool’s development process to provide a helpful example for others working on long-term systems change who are grappling with how to identify meaningful interim progress.

Open Access