The State of Childcare: County-Wide Qualitative Research

Year: 2019
Work products: Research, Survey design, Communication design, Marketing, Website, Facilitation design, Synthesis, Writing

Context:

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure to work on a number of public engagement projects with my friend Ivette Mongalo-Winston. In these projects, we design and implement research activities to help public sector and non-profit clients understand the needs and perspectives of people in the communities they serve. I'm proud to have delivered well-executed research projects to these clients, because I believe in design research and believe that many types of organizations should benefit from it.

In this engagement, we created a multi-faceted public process to bring to the surface voices from around Allegheny County (including parents, caregivers, providers, and children) about the current state of childcare (for infants and children under age five as well as for older children during out-of-school time).

Our insights were a key input to a working group convened by Allegheny County’s County Executive, and informed the policy recommendations the working group delivered to the County Executive and the electeds on County Council. This is to say: our job was to make people's voices and experiences real to policymakers. The data we collected through this process offered an on-the-ground perspective about these issues in tandem with the zoomed-out county-wide demographic data another team collected.

Solution:

We designed the research engagement to include a series of six public meetings, including a Spanish-language meeting; a set of workshops for subject matter experts based on key issues that surfaced during the public meetings; a meeting-in-a-box kit to get the input of teens; and a set of online surveys (a survey for childcare providers, and parent/caregiver surveys in English and Spanish). We and the working group were happy with the response: about 500 people gave their input as a part of the public process.

The impact of what we heard in the meetings changed the scope of our deliverables: in addition to summarizing our findings as in input for the working group members, we also created a publicly-accessible public engagement summary that detailed what we heard in the meetings and through the surveys. This helped create a sense of transparency with the public at large; and, we hope, helped make the people who took the time to participate in our research feel heard.

Writing the summary, I used the same method I used writing my thesis manual: I used quotations from the research participants to knit together themes we heard throughout the research, to foreground the voices and experiences of the people we had heard from.

Direct quotations highlighted in yellow

Impact:

The Allegheny County Children's Fund Working Group delivered their recommendations to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in fall 2019. In the words of the County Executive, the working group “recommended the creation of a new county department dedicated to children as well as an annual investment of up to $20 million to support high-quality early learning and out-of-school-time programs. The working group found that there are significant gaps in equitable access and recommends that a focus on improving the quality of the system would provide significant benefit to the community.”

The quality of the public process we led and the data we collected through it helped justify the working group's recommendations. These recommendations await the County's next funding cycle; and in the meantime, the challenges and inequities within the childcare system that we heard about from parents, caregivers, providers, and children greatly intensified with the onset of the global pandemic in 2020.