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Harvard Graduate School of Education: Zaentz Navigator / A strategic tool for early education policymaking

Branding, CMS development, Data visualization, Website design, Website development

Interactive dashboard builds foundational Pre-K support

Every child deserves to have their education begin with a solid foundation, yet in the U.S., there is incredibly no coordinated system underlying our nation’s pre-kindergarten education. While elementary and high schools can rely on networks of school boards, state and federal entities, and nonprofit players for support and structure, pre-k educators have long been siloed, ignored, and under-resourced. “No child left behind” rings hollow.

However, the tide has begun to turn. Stakeholders across the country are recognizing the importance of bridging policies, understanding gaps, and scaling successes across city, county, and state lines. In the absence of leadership from elsewhere, The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is stepping up.

The Zaentz team partnered with Threespot to develop an interactive, user-friendly tool to assist policymakers and researchers in understanding how cities and states across the country are building pre-k support as they work to improve early education and care.

Distilling the insights that matter

Political leaders often craft plans and policies on tight deadlines, weighing perspectives and making myriad decisions at once. Meanwhile, researchers dive deep into critical details so as to accurately represent insights. But deep investigation often results in multi-year, longitudinal studies published in hard-to-discover places. So how did we build a tool that would answer the needs of both groups? An innovative query builder right on the homepage.

We present two straightforward prompts at the start which, once answered, generate a curated overview of strategies that states and cities throughout the US are employing to establish, expand, and fund early childhood education.

By immediately asking users to actively participate in defining the kinds of content they will find relevant, the site quickly becomes a guiding tool to build connections across the field instead of a dumping ground of information with limited relevance to each user. These are busy people who need answers, and the tool is designed to serve them.

A flexible library of custom visualizations

The Zaentz Navigator provides information about strategies as well as relevant data about each state, such as demographics, political landscape, and pre-K enrollment.

To make the information as digestible as possible, we used common data visualization models—pie charts, scorecards, line charts, and bar charts—to tell a clear story.

After beginning with content strategy workshops, our team developed a series of customizable and reusable visualization blocks in the CMS, powered by chart.js, allowing Zaentz staff to easily build more profiles and visualizations as their research expands.

Charting new territory within a brand family

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative leads a breadth of programs for early education all under one brand umbrella. Like its peer programs, the tool needed to live within the overarching Zaentz brand family, but still claim its own identity.

We guided the Zaentz team to set a name for the tool—The Zaentz Navigator: A Strategic Tool for Early Education—that is both straightforward and inspiring to an audience that has long lacked a guide to the best research in the field. We also developed a fresh logo for the site that uses the Zaentz brand’s fonts and colors, while at the same time charting a new path with sleek compass rose iconography and updated typography.

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