Science-Based Innovation and Adaptation: An Approach to Accelerating the Impact of Early Years Services

Dartington Service Design Lab in collaboration with Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
London, UK

Over the last few years both the Dartington Service Design Lab and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University have been working on approaches to help accelerate the impact of early years services. Now they are coming together in an exciting collaboration to create the first Frontiers of Innovation Cluster outside of North and South America, in the UK. 

As part of this endeavour, the Lab – in collaboration with the Harvard Center – will be running a one-day training event in October.

In this fast-paced and engaging experience, participants will hear from leading scientists and designers from the Harvard Center and the Lab. They’ll be introduced to the IDEAS Impact Framework : a new approach to service development and evaluation. This will help participants consider the specifics of how a service works, for whom it works (and does not work); in what contexts it works, and how to ensure this is informed by the latest science on early childhood development. They’ll hear about nimble, fast-paced approaches to service development, testing and refinement that fit with local system conditions and allow us to continually learn and improve services to make a bigger difference to the lives of children and families.


This training is for anyone with an interest in, and commitment to, evidence-informed, co-created service design, delivery and improvement in the early years, and for those that want to go beyond the best of what the field has achieved so far. Previous participants in North and South America have come from a wide range of settings related to the early years, including:

  • Early years leaders and practitioners, including programme developers;

  • Central or local government commissioners or policy-makers; 

  • Research, academic, and think tank professionals;

  • Trusts and Foundations supporting early years services.

Attendees will leave with new ideas and strategies to:

  • Identify and build programmes with the greatest potential for impact;

  • Define and evaluate the effectiveness of services;

  • Orientate their programme toward impact and reach within a local system. 


The day will be delivered in-person by scientists and service designers from the Harvard Center and the Dartington Service Design Lab. It will include:

An opening presentation from the Harvard Center: Three Principles to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families. They will share three evidence-based design principles that we can use to create and improve policies and services for children and families.

An overview of the IDEAS Impact Framework: An introduction to the framework designed to help innovators overcome barriers and go beyond the status quo to increase impact.

IDEAS Impact Framework Component #1 Theory of Change: Successful and impactful programs have a clear and precise Theory of Change that supports rapid-cycle iteration by pinpointing why, how, and for whom an intervention should work. You’ll hear about and discuss these key components.

IDEAS Impact Framework Component #2 Programme and Materials Development: Programmes should be grounded in science, deliverable in the real world, capable of continuous improvement, and supported by high-quality materials. You’ll hear about and discuss the key components of a quality programme and materials.

IDEAS Impact Framework Component #3 Rapid-cycle evaluation plan: To understand and measure the impact of your service, you need a feasible testing and improvement plan that will answer the questions raised in your Theory of Change. You’ll hear about and discuss key concepts of rapid cycle design and testing to support ongoing iteration and service improvement.