In support of the Every Child Ready Chicago initiative, Start Early began exploring the creation of a Chicago early childhood research consortium, which would bring together researchers, policymakers, practitioners, families, and community representatives across sectors in a robust, long-term research-practice partnership focused on helping Chicago achieve its vision for a strong early childhood system.
Access to relevant, actionable, and timely evidence and data that can guide the decisions of policymakers and program leaders is critical to the success of early childhood, and any other, systems-building initiatives. For an early childhood system as large and ambitious as Chicago, no one research partner or institution can provide these supports alone; a consortium of researchers and research institutions working together is key. Chicago already benefits from several research consortia, but none focus specifically on the city’s early childhood system.
Our exploratory report presents the findings of the initial inquiry phase: stakeholder interviews with 26 participants from 16 different organizations, including researchers, advocates, practitioners, leaders of community-based organizations, City of Chicago officials and staff, and other experts. The consensus that emerged was clear:
- Chicago needs an early childhood research consortium to serve as a long-term, sustainable research partnership focused exclusively on Chicago’s cross-sector, systemwide early childhood priorities.
- The research consortium should function as:
- A neutral third-party without allegiance to, or conflicts of interest with, any City agency, office or department.
- A trusted thought partner and capacity support for City agencies, offices and departments, as well as community and systems leaders.
- A “hub” for researchers across institutions and disciplines.
- An integrated complement to existing and emerging infrastructure, systems, consortia and partnerships; it should not duplicate or replace them.
The exploratory interviews also helped to specify a set of important strategic questions that remain unanswered. In the next phase of this work, it will be important to bring together potential partners for nuanced discussions regarding these recommendations, strategic questions and additional topics that emerge as this work progresses. We are excited to catalyze these conversations and facilitate this process for Chicago’s early childhood community.