Embracing Our “Problems”
At this point in our journey, with gaps in our system clearly identified, we were in danger of taking a wrong turn. Fortunately, we had a professional facilitator, Cheryl May, who kept us on the main road by continually reminding us to keep the following question in mind:
What’s in the council’s scope, role, and capacity to impact?
Six themes emerged from the description of our system using current data, and after much discussion, we chose three that met the criteria above, were supported by local data, and generated excitement and energy among our members. Although it was discouraging for us to formulate these issues in negative terms, we next distilled the three themes into problem statements that answered the question, “What is broken about our system?” per CDE instructions.
1. Early care and education providers don’t have the knowledge, skills, competencies, and experience in the field to be successful in their jobs.
2. Families don’t access and use information and resources about the importance of good nutrition and developmentally appropriate physical activity for healthy development and academic success from birth through 5 and beyond.
3. Children in our community do not have the necessary transition experiences from EC/Pre-K settings to Kindergarten to enable them to enter school with the pre-academic and social skills needed for success.
Determining the Roots of Our Problems
Just when we thought we were close to our final destination, we had to learn a new process to get at the causes of the problems – it was like trying to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, from the “wrong” side of the car. This process is called root cause analysis – the Five Whys. The larger council with the help of our consultant, and a smaller group later on, grappled with this process for months.
We learned many things, including: almost all problems have many causal factors; some circumstances “act like causes” but aren’t truly causative; not all causes are root causes; some causes are not in the scope of what we could impact as a council. In order to meet the requirements of our funders, we not only had to identify the root causes for the identified problems, we had to describe the logical process we went through and justify why other causal factors weren’t true root causes.
For example, in teasing out the causative factors contributing to problem statement #1 above, we eliminated burnout and poor compensation as root causes because they weren’t within our scope to address. For problem statement #2 we eliminated the ready availability of fast food, the fact that our area has Food Deserts, and neighborhoods that aren’t conducive to outdoor activities for the same reason. For problem statement #3 we eliminated causes that identified parental weakness (parents don’t know the value of early development, don’t have the skills to support early development, etc.) instead of systems-weaknesses.
This complex process involved discussion, revision, frustration, confusion, and finally, clarity and mastery. Knowledge of root causes enabled us to set clear, achievable goals that tie together the foundation elements in the Early Childhood Colorado Framework.