The Child Trends News Service: Lessons Learned in Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration
This is one of two blogs written by the Principals of Group i&i Consultancy, the External Review Team for the Child Trends News Service (CTNS) Project.
The CTNS project is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between Child Trends, the nation’s leading research organization focused on improving the lives of children and youth, and Ivanhoe Broadcast News, a national TV news production and syndication company. The project produces research-based news designed for public consumption and seeks to bridge the gap between parents, researchers, and television news, while contributing to the knowledge base in informal STEM learning and communication science. The CTNS newsfeed, Positive Parenting, has been broadcast to local TV news stations throughout the country for five years.
In July 2022, Child Trends will conclude the final year of a Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Advancing Informal STEM Learning Program for Innovations in Development. This award was preceded by a Phase I two-year proof-of-concept study initiated in August 2016, a research-and-dissemination effort accompanied by extensive formative research, and an impact study. In 2020, Child Trends received a RAPID COVID-19 grant to harness digital media data to inform TV news reports that addressed key challenges facing Latino families.
Group i&i, a consultant firm for nonprofits, sought to identify the essential elements that are fundamental to the success of this collaboration. The goals were to promote continuous improvement and provide insights for similar initiatives working to translate research into “edible science” for public consumption. This blog addresses lessons learned that are applicable to other areas of informal STEM learning related to cross-disciplinary collaboration that is needed to bridge scientific research and the news media.
The Reach and Impact of the CTNS
The CTNS project has reached 364 U.S. news stations, including 42 in the top 25 Latino-serving markets. During Phase II alone, the CTNS project produced 192 news stories that were broadcast 3,348 times, with an estimated average viewership exceeding 46 million (Nielsen tracking data provided by Meltwater as of November 2020).
The CTNS project’s intended impact is both ambitious and far-reaching, envisioning:
- Empowered underserved audiences learning how to promote positive child
- Heightened awareness among audiences about the value of—and appreciation for—social science research
- Increased adoption of evidence-based parenting practices
- Improved understanding among researchers and informal STEM communicators of
how audiences interact with information, and the factors that ultimately lead to behavioral change
- Enhanced potential to build a foundation for subsequent longitudinal research in
What Makes the CTNS Collaboration Unique?
To be effective, news stories about child development and parenting must spark viewers’ attention while advancing knowledge. They must offer research-based tips that are relevant, accessible, reliable, applicable, and of social value to families. This initiative would not be possible without a highly productive collaboration that bridges the gap between two distinct and divergent fields: child development research (which is academic, rigorous, and intensive) and television news (which values plain language, brevity, and ease of use). As lead partner, Child Trends maintains responsibility for the integrity and accuracy of the research, while Ivanhoe ensures the newsworthiness of the topics, ensures compliance with technical and storytelling TV standards, and engages stations to air the videos.
What Does It Take to be Successful?
The reviewers observed the CTNS and its partners (backbone leaders, design and production team, and advisory panel members) for five years, facilitating a series of iterative “listening loops” in which key stakeholders provided feedback. The result was a construct (informed by Collective Impact research), composed of three distinct yet overlapping elements fundamental to success:
- LEADERSHIP (an integrative view of the project’s culture, organization,
- COMMUNITY (a representation of collective commitment, engagement, and larger context)
- EVIDENCE (resulting from a focus on theory of change, evaluation,
As with the CTNS design, an effective collaboration requires a shared mindset, an integrative approach, and an implementation process informed by, and anchored around, these elements as they guide actions, decisions, and deliverables.
ELEMENTS OF EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION
Culture (clear accountability for results and quality; team approach that values all voices and perspectives; collaborative behaviors and interpersonal relationships)
Organization (effective management, staffing, structure, and resourcing; qualified staff with clearly coordinated roles and responsibilities; well-executed action planning and implementation)
Decision Making (creative brainstorming and problem solving; effective conflict management and resolution; adaptable, flexible strategy and realistic pace of development)
Commitment (shared mission and unique purpose valued by all partners; consistent commitment to mutually beneficial agenda and goals; open communication of plans and results)
Engagement (the right partners around the table, in the right roles; effective listening and responsiveness to non-aligned issues; ongoing dialogue that values feedback and builds trust)
Context (inter-disciplinary/inter-organizational systems perspective; awareness of evolving political, social, and economic landscape; cultural and linguistic sensitivity and responsiveness)
Theory of Change (logic model with valid assumptions; consistent focus on outcomes and impact; integrity of research design)
Evaluation (effectiveness of research implementation; validity and reliability of evidence; communication and dissemination of results)
Scalability (adaptability to incorporate new learning; continued engagement of
emerging partners and supporters; strategic thinking and planning for sustainability and further research)
What Have We Learned?
There are many challenges of marrying news production with social science research that are not unique to the CTNS project. Rather, they apply to all efforts to translate social science research into practice in our daily lives. For example, the CTNS’ rigorous quality control process and feedback loop uncovered learnings that led to shortening the length of the reports and adding more “how to” content, significantly improving the overall quality of the segments.
We hope that this evolving framework may be helpful to other informal STEM learning and communication science initiatives as they work to translate science for public consumption and generate:
- Strong, mission-focused leadership
- A broadly representative, highly committed community of partners
- A sound theory of change and logic model that underlie the integrity of the research design, incorporating new learnings to improve quality and enable scalability.
The CTNS has leveraged knowledge across multiple disciplines of child development science, news media, Latinx studies, and communication science. It has elevated the visibility and credibility of social science research and reached millions of homes nationwide while generating insightful learnings of value to those pursuing similar aims. As it continues to mature, the project is broadening its scope to embrace new partners and advisory panel experts, including educators, pediatricians, and others who influence the field of child development—all focused on making an ever-greater difference in the lives of children.