Last month, we published an issue brief on home visiting research, evaluation, and quality improvement efforts supported by the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Today’s blog post, jointly authored by the Administration for Children and Families and the Health Resources and Services Administration, details the learning agenda approach guiding these efforts.

From its inception, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) has incorporated a learning agenda approach. As described in the President’s FY 2018 budget released earlier this year, which encouraged federal agencies to create and implement learning agendas, this approach involves “collaboratively identify[ing] the critical ques­tions that, when answered, will help … programs to be more effective, and to plan to answer those questions using the most appropriate tools.”

A learning agenda also aims to “continually improve program performance by applying existing evidence about what works, generating new knowledge, and using experimentation and innovation to test new approaches to program delivery.” (OMB-13-17)

From the beginning, MIECHV’s learning agenda has involved a combination of (1) continuous quality improvement, (2) performance measurement, (3) rigorous evaluation at the national and local levels, and (4) support for research infrastructure in the field. Each of these activities provides important, but distinct, information about the program to help improve MIECHV’s effectiveness and to build the broader knowledge base regarding home visiting. In other words, each piece of the learning agenda tells a different part of the MIECHV “story”, and each is necessary for telling that story.

Broadly speaking, to date the MIECHV Learning Agenda has included questions such as:

  • Who is participating in MIECHV (including families and program staff) and what outcomes are they improving on?
  • How is the program being implemented at the local level and the state/territory/tribal level?
  • How can program implementation be improved so the best outcomes are achieved for families participating in the program?
  • Does the program “work” (i.e., are participants better off than nonparticipants)? For whom and under what circumstances?
  • What kinds of innovations can be implemented to improve services and outcomes?

The projects highlighted by the NHVRC’s brief released in September represent important components of the MIECHV Learning Agenda, which are helping us answer the above questions, as well as others identified by state, territory, and tribal grantees. It is important to remember, though, that no one piece tells the whole story, and that we have to look across the components of the Learning Agenda to get the most complete picture of the program.

This year the Administration for Children and Families and the Health Resources and Services Administration (the federal agencies that collaborate to oversee the MIECHV program) embarked on a new effort to make the MIECHV Learning Agenda more transparent and explicit, with stakeholder engagement a key component of that process. We appreciate input received to date on the MIECHV Learning Agenda and look forward to continued discussion with and feedback from stakeholders to ensure that the learning agenda is meeting its fullest potential.