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Getting clear in fog city

I have just returned from a 10 day trip to San Francisco, presenting at the prestigious Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education.

Educators from around the world were impressed with the innovative approaches people in Aotearoa are taking to improve children's oral language – especially the way we collaborate with a wide range of people and organisations and collect data to inform how effective our efforts are. I co-presented to a full audience with our partners at Ko Awatea and Auckland Kindergarten Association.

The Carnegie Summit was an amazing opportunity to interact with some of the best minds in education improvement. One theme came through almost all of the presentations, conversations and workshops I took part in - get clear about what it is that we want to achieve.

This sounds simple enough, and in the context of Talking Matters, I thought to myself "well we want to grow great thinkers, talkers and readers", "we want to wrap rich talk around babies and young children", "we want adults to talk more and talk differently with babies and little ones", and the more I thought about it, the more foggy I felt. Could I be more clear about what it is that we want to achieve?

As Joe McCannon and Becky Marigotta of the Billions Institute spoke during their keynote address, I realised there is always room to delve deeper and get more specific about what success would look like. Joe talked about how in today's society we are awash in knowledge. We can access information and research faster than ever before, and despite this, billions of people still do not have access to information that could change their lives. "We revere discovery much more than implementation and believe in the myth of natural diffusion yet there is no evidence for that". The challenge of our time is to find a way to take things that work and bring them to everyone in record-breaking time.

We know that talking with babies and young children has a tremendous impact on babies' brain development. At Talking Matters we need to find effective ways to share this message and help families find ways that work for them to use this knowledge.

Hayagreeva Rao of Stanford University talked to us about scaling up without screwing up. His advice was to keep things simple "it's simple, light weight things that scale well. Complicated and bureaucratic things so often go off course". When there is too much to think about, our ability to do what is right and what we believe in is undermined.

Tony Bryck, the director of the Carnegie Foundation stressed the value of connecting our messages to things that parents already believe in, know and do, such as daily routines. Keeping it simple might involve sharing quality materials that families want and find value in. He, along with multiple experts, emphasised the needs to involve parents at every stage of the improvement research programme. Sage advice that confirms our co-design initiatives are heading in the right direction - but we could always do more!

I visited other organisations in California, such as the 'Talking is Teaching/Too Small to Fail' campaign. There's so much to learn from their journey, enough to warrant another blog post. Their findings tautoko what Tony was saying, having high quality artefacts to give to parents that share our message is crucial. But... it's never a one size fits all. Different things work for different communities. Involve them at all stages of the process, including content development and design.