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How can philanthropies build applicants’ skills and strengthen the quality of their proposals?

The Opportunity

The quality of a child’s early learning experiences has a profound impact on fundamental areas of their personal growth that go beyond academic attainment. However, many children in the U.S. are growing up in conditions of economic insecurity and social exclusion, and do not have access to quality early learning experiences – leaving them at a significant disadvantage. While there is a national emphasis on increasing the number of children who have access to early learning opportunities, there remains much to understand about what features of high-quality programs contribute to positive outcomes for specific groups of young children. Given the potential to increase the impact of early learning experiences on children from underrepresented backgrounds, the Foundation for Child Development’s (FCD) Young Scholars Program (YSP) has focused its activities on addressing this disparity in early childhood development research.

To close this knowledge gap effectively, FCD needed to reach a new set of scholars conducting “high-quality” research, and sought to include scholars from historically underrepresented backgrounds in the process. Equal Measure’s experience in developing and working with scholar networks that are aligned with fields relevant to early childhood development played a large role in our selection for this engagement.

“All families should have the social and material resources to raise their children to be healthy, educated, and productive members of their communities.”

Foundation for Child Development

The Response

Understanding that well-informed, culturally-relevant approaches are developed through diverse perspectives, FCD’s Young Scholars Program elevates research by early career scholars who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds – and who represent a variety of disciplines and methodological approaches. To support the YSP’s 2016 Call for Proposals, Equal Measure provided technical assistance to identify eligible scholars and articulate the process for scholars to apply for funding. To reach scholars from historically underrepresented backgrounds who have an interest in early childhood development, our outreach strategy leveraged the strength of professional networks accessible to FCD and Equal Measure. These included the New Connections network, along with the Sisters of the Academy, HBCU Faculty Development Network, and the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment. In order to reach new scholars who may not be members of professional networks, Equal Measure crafted social media posts that highlighted the value of the YSP.

While highly knowledgeable in their fields, early career scholars are still engaged in skill-refinement, in addition to balancing teaching, research, and academic service responsibilities. To be productive in supporting a burgeoning research agenda, scholars must hone their ability to design projects and craft proposals from a multidisciplinary perspective. To help prospective FCD Scholars learn about the YSP program and application process, Equal Measure conducted two Applicant Web Conferences (LOI Phase and Full Application Phase). These virtual conferences provided a forum for prospective applicants to learn from FCD staff about the YSP’s mission, and for scholars to ask questions about any aspect of the program. Complementing the two Applicant Web Conferences was a Virtual Skill Development Workshop, led by a senior scholar who was experienced with proposal development and knowledgeable about the YSP. The workshop enabled potential scholars to polish their skills in completing full applications – such as linking research to policy and practice, linking research to theory and conceptual models, and writing analysis plans.

The Results

The Young Scholars Program received many high quality applications in response to its Call for Proposals. We measured the effectiveness of the outreach strategy using various tools and analytics. For instance, using the Bit.ly Universal Resource Locator service to determine the scale of the outreach, we learned that the effort reached more than 2,500 scholars. In addition, nearly 20% of those who participated in the initial Applicant Web Conference registered in direct response to Equal Measure’s outreach.

We assessed the web conferences and virtual workshop to determine utility and satisfaction, through conducting post-event surveys of participants. The responses from these surveys were overwhelmingly positive, and participants expressed a desire for more virtual conferences and workshops in the future.

Together, FCD and Equal Measure learned that a robust outreach strategy, supportive skill-based virtual conferences, and systematic reporting mechanisms to track outcomes, will help provide data for program decision-making, enhance applicants’ experiences, and foster high quality, clearly articulated research designs.

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