The Improvement Network

Solving complex social issues such as prematurity requires a new way of organizing ourselves. Improvement networks are an innovative structure to organize stakeholders who collectively are in pursuit of a shared goal.

To improve how our community is performing on this critical indicator Albany County and March of Dimes New York are collaborating to create a local Prematurity Improvement Network. The work of this network will be to:

·         Establish data collection & reporting mechanisms to collect and analyze real-time data regarding how our community is performing regarding premature births; use this data to set a baseline and targets for improvement; disaggregate prematurity rates by appropriate demographic indicators (i.e. race, income, geography, etc.) in order to identify locally-defined disparities;

·         Share information broadly about the current state of prematurity rates with key leaders, policy makers, institutional decision makers, and families & residents;

·         Identify a diverse array of strategies to reduce prematurity rates including systems, policies, programs, and direct family supports to reduce prematurity rates, including strategies specifically intended to reduce racial disparities in outcomes;

·         Engage the appropriate set of cross-sector partners who can collaborate and mobilize towards improvement;

·         Leverage existing assets to build on and expand existing resources such as ongoing initiatives, offices, grants, etc. to maximize impact;

·         Build a culture of continuous improvement around reducing prematurity rates, including the creation of rapid cycle continuous improvement projects and building community capacity in continuous improvement;

·         All in order to, Reduce the prematurity birth rate in Albany.

What’s Different About an Improvement Network? What’s the Secret Sauce?

A deeper form of collaboration

We’ve all been to meetings with lots of stakeholders—but large meetings don’t necessarily produce results, so what about improvement networks is different?

Humans are actually biologically wired to seek connection and have for a long time understood that working together can create large scale change. What’s new is what we know today about effective networks and the tools and process needed to make improvement networks impactful. It’s a science, with an evidence base, practitioners, and a evidence that this approach works.

FOCUSED ON A Clear, specific GOal

Improvement networks have a clear shared goal—not just to “make things better for those living in poverty,” but as in our case, “reduce the prematurity rate in Albany County.” The outcome must be clearly defined and measurable over time, so that the network can see if progress is being made.

Willingness to deeply understand the problem, THE SYSTEM THAT PRODUCES IT, AND Articulate THEORY OF Change

Einstein once famously said “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.” We often seen well-intentioned efforts at improvement fall into something called “solutionitis”—a rush to implementing solutions quickly, before deeply understanding the problem, which often leads to no improvement at all. Improvement networks instead carefully map out the current state, solicit many points of view on the issue, and develop a theory of change to test solutions. This allows networks to adapt quickly, innovate immediately, and find solutions that work locally.

Distributed Power & a Focus on Learning

Improvement networks do not draw their power from a single agency; rather, the power they have is in widely distributed networks, with no single entity “in charge.” This means coordination between partners is key to scale practices that work across multiple partners and ensure integration of services. With learning as a core value, the network helps spread the use of new knowledge about improvements created by the network.

Coordinated & Convened

One of the biggest barriers to innovation and improvement is that institutions, programs, and leaders have so much on their plate already. Improvement networks are coordinated and convened by specific entities, allowing the work to move forward and network members to be supported as they do their work. Coaching, data support, and facilitation all play an important role in innovation and improvement.


Improvement networks work in real time, so traditional evaluation methodologies designed to answer the long-term question Does a program work? are complimented by the rigorous improvement science methodology that helps to answer How can we make this work reliably and in local contexts. The use of rapid cycle continuous improvement enables programs and institutions to make changes and quickly see if the results are promising. Promising results get scaled; changes that lead to no results are quickly abandoned and more innovation continues.