A great deal is already known in the literature about how to effectively promote healthy child development through interventions in health, education, and other sectors. This has led to the well-known global framework for promotion of ECD at scale is the WHO, UNICEF and World Bank’s Nurturing Care Framework for Helping Children Survive & Thrive to Transform Health and Human Potential (NCF). However, in spite of what is known, few interventions promoting early child development (ECD) have been equitably and sustainably scaled. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic substantial inequities existed in child development indicators between and within countries.
The pandemic and other major disruptions to child health and development including conflict, and the climate crisis, have heightened the challenge of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal 4.2.1-that all children are able to reach their developmental potential. Yet these disruptions can also present a timely opportunity to think differently about how we might promote child development at scale as we move forward.
Systems thinking aims to help us improve understanding of the whole system as well as its component parts, and the interconnections between them. It explicitly acknowledges complexity and recognises that the context in which systems exists is dynamic and changes over time. While systems thinking has a long history in some sectors (e.g. information technology, finance, agriculture), its application in other sectors is relatively new and in the ECD agenda is under-developed.
For this project we suggest that systems thinking might offer new insights into longstanding challenges in promotion of ECD at scale, including sustainability and equity. Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic and other major system disruptors (e.g., the climate crisis, economic crises, conflict) offer a relatively unique window of opportunity to investigate whether applied systems approaches could promote system resilience and accelerate progress in regaining lost ground for children. This evidence review has harnessed the lessons learned from failures and successes in applying systems thinking across sectors to suggest a number of potential ways forward for an accelerated ECD equity ecosystem.