The Pathways Mapping Initiative:
A Message from the Founder, Lisbeth B. Schorr
The Pathways Mapping Initiative (PMI) operated from 2000 to 2007 to put together what is known from research and from the experiences of high-quality, results-oriented, initiatives and systems for the purpose of strengthening efforts to improve community outcomes for children and their families.
This work has been based on the conviction that communities, stakeholders, and funders should not have to start with a blank slate or scrounge, unaided, to uncover the rich lessons learned by others. We believe that communities will be able to act most effectively when they can combine local wisdom and their understanding of local contexts with “actionable intelligence” from outside—the accumulated knowledge about what has worked elsewhere, what is working now, and what appears promising.
With support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, PMI constructed three Pathways, completed in 2007:
the Pathway to Children Ready for School and Succeeding at Third Grade
the Pathway to Successful Young Adulthood
the Pathway to the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
Each of the Pathways includes the following elements:
The Goals, or results, the Pathway is designed to achieve
The Actions, or strategies, that communities, funders, and policy makers can take to achieve these goals.
Examples of the actions and strategies, in the form of programs and other known interventions.
Indicators to measure progress toward the goals.
The Ingredients of effective implementation, with emphasis on needed systems changes.
The Rationale that connects actions to results and the Evidence documenting the effectiveness of the actions, with emphasis on new findings, especially from brain science research and from place-based efforts.
The administrative and legislative Policies that help sustain effective local Pathways and are essential if successful local efforts are to be taken to scale.
In addition to providing information about how results can be achieved, the Pathways
Give communities reliable guidance about what has worked elsewhere—information these users can combine with their understanding of local conditions and opportunities to improve outcomes for children and families, especially those living in disinvested neighborhoods
Give public and philanthropic funders new ways of understanding what works so they can think and act more strategically and coherently to improve outcomes for children and families
Create a forum through which community experience can continuously inform and modify the knowledge base
PMI has taken a unique approach to assembling knowledge by not limiting its explorations to what has been “proven” and by placing a wider lens on “what works.” We began our explorations with a literature review. We then convened groups of experienced researchers and practitioners who work in diverse fields and have a variety of perspectives. We asked them to make explicit their “mental maps” of what it takes to reach the outcome under consideration. For example, the mental mapping groups addressing school readiness were asked, “Considering the research, theories, and experience you have been exposed to over the years, what could a community most effectively do if it were determined to raise rates of school readiness?”
Posing the question that way helped to reveal the big picture, including the fact that school readiness cannot be achieved by a single system. Our explorations crossed disciplinary, political, and systems boundaries. They reflected the growing understanding that it takes more than child welfare services to keep children safe, it takes more than the police to keep neighborhoods free of violence, it takes more than family support services to strengthen families, it takes more than good preschool programs to get children ready for school, and it takes more than job training programs to make families economically successful.
We found that many potentially effective actions do not achieve their intended outcome because they are implemented poorly or in isolation, without an understanding of potentially synergistic impacts. Interventions also may not be getting results because they are paying insufficient attention to the community, policy and system contexts that can support or undermine effectiveness. By being inclusive about what we considered credible knowledge, we were able to get beyond identifying successful programs to find the essential attributes of services and supports, of community activities, and of policies and systems that seem crucial for success. These include not only funding and regulatory decisions, but also a community’s capacity to monitor the availability and quality of services and supports, assure a continuum of services and supports over time, strengthen social bonds, influence neighborhood norms, and continually learn from research and experience to achieve great impacts.
After organizing the information we were able to gather from a range of sources, we subjected our findings to review, critique, and modification by diverse groups of experts, including practitioners, researchers, and potential users, to construct the Pathways. We then organized our findings for presentation in an interactive and navigable form on the web.
In 2013, the Center for the Study of Social Policy received support from the Omidyar Group to update the Pathway to School Readiness and Early School Success and enhance the Pathway architecture.
This development reflects the need for deeper and more accessible information to inform increasingly complex new efforts to improve such significant unsolved social problems as high rates of concentrated poverty, disinvested communities, and race- and income-based disparities in health, well-being, and education outcomes.