Head Start provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to over a million low-income children and their families each year, making a huge difference in people's lives.
Services are offered in a variety of formats. One of the most interesting (and effective) is the "home visitor" program offered by Early Head Start. All across the country, from the far reaches of Alaska to the poorest sections of inner-city America, thousands of Early Head Start home visitors are charged with providing services to low income families in their homes in order to help get their babies and toddlers ready for pre-school and kindergarten.
We began our work together when the Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHSNRC), one of the agencies that creates evidence-based training and support materials for Head Start, wanted to “go digital.” We learned that the Center had an incredible library of materials they'd developed to help supervisors and home visitors apply the latest and best practices.
Yet, all these resources were only available in print format. Moving them online seemed an obvious next step. But before diving straight into any kind of digital migration, we needed first to understand more about the people they were being designed for, where they would be used, and what they needed for this to be successful.
Through dozens of interviews with home visitors and supervisors across the country, along with on-site observations of home visitors' daily routines, we quickly learned that the context in which these digital resources would be used was complex and challenging, to say the least.
We found that home visitors had incredible passion for their job, but they tended to be overwhelmed with a huge case load. Managing complex family relationships, understanding cultural issues — you name it — home visitors handle it. What's more, they have to learn quickly, act in the moment, and can often feel isolated and alone.
From the outset, it became clear that the project wasn’t simply about going digital. It was really about improving home visits, and thus, outcomes.
And while EHNRC had created extensive support resources, they weren't readily accessible. Interviewees told us they didn't have time to manually sort through all of that information. What's more, when they would make a home visit, they’d often need to figure everything out right then and there — without time to consult a handbook.
So, the key question became how to give “on-the-go” home visitors and their supervisors an easy way to engage with and customize all of the content available to them. People clearly didn't have time to learn a cumbersome application. The solution had to be responsive to different skill levels, learning styles, and environments, and be intuitive, quick, and adaptable. It was more a question of 'who, where, and when,' rather than 'what.'
Armed with extensive data about user habits and requirements, we developed an interactive, web-based software solution that can be used on all devices, from laptops to cell phones. The project was dubbed “OpenDoors.”
The final project is an online collection of interactive books and multimedia on home visiting, including recent regulations, webinars, videos, relevant publications, best practices, and training materials.
But it’s much more than that.
Over time, the tool adapts to each individual user. It becomes a personalized set of resources, focused on the topics of greatest use and interest to that person. Filters, favorites, reviews, and notes are some of the built-in features that take the enormous database of resources from overwhelming to focused. Now, wherever their jobs take them, home visitors can easily find just the guidance they need, right on the spot, and apply the best, evidence-based practices to their work.