April 13, 2021

Change is hard. But to meet new challenges and achieve results that matter, change is also necessary. Continuous improvement (CI) can help you enact positive and lasting change. CI is the process of identifying and analyzing problems and strengths, then testing and revising solutions. EDC uses CI to help clients test, sustain, and scale solutions to complex challenges, ranging from equity in home visiting programs to discipline referrals in schools.

CI can be used in any situation—personal or professional, simple or complex. Anne recently used these CI steps to get her kids to school on time.

1. Set your goal. What outcome do you want? Make your goal measurable and specific. Have an end date.

Example: Anne set a goal of getting the kids to school on time 95% of the school year.

2. Understand root causes. What are the core reasons you haven’t achieved your goal? Collect information and engage others to identify the root cause.

Example: When we examined why we had so much trouble getting the kids to school on time, we discovered the problem was the adults. When the adults started preparing for school earlier, the kids were on time.

3. Pick something to try. What changes can you make to address the root cause of your problem? Once you have an idea, test the change on a small scale to learn about the change in a short time.

Example: Given the issue was with the adults, we committed to starting the day at 6:45 a.m. to make breakfast, pack lunches, and hustle the kids out the door.

4. Measure it! You’ll need data to see if your changes are having the desired impact. Aim for data that is simple, frequent, and motivating. You should have a measure tied to your goal and the key changes you are making.

Example: We found that we were able to consistently get downstairs by 6:45 a.m. using an alarm. That gave us enough time to complete the morning routine and still make it to school on time.

5. Learn and try again. Studying the data you collect helps you make refinements. Making adjustments and reexamining the results each time allows you to achieve your goals more efficiently.

Example: Since starting at 6:45 a.m. gave us spare time, we experimented with starting later. We learned that we could start as late as 7:00 a.m. and still make it on time, although sometimes it meant running for the bus.

While hard, making change happen can provide a sense of power and optimism. We invite you to try these steps on something you’ve been wanting to improve and let us know how it goes.

Patricia Finnerty, an EDC improvement advisor, is an expert in maternal and child health and continuous quality improvement (CQ)I. She builds capacity to use CQI to improve outcomes for children and families on multiple national initiatives.
Anne Wang is a research scientist at EDC who leads continuous improvement projects focused on building the capacity of school and district staff to create sustainable change.
Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

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