Applied Innovations with Shala London and Meghan Kluth
The work of the Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) and its centers encompass a vast range of services, solutions, and partnerships. In our short interview series, Applied Innovations, we get to know some of the talented members of our team and their projects, across many centers and various areas of impact.
In this edition, we meet Meghan Kluth, Research Project Manager, and Shala London, Creative Director, both of AAI's Center for Public Partnerships & Research.
Can You Tell Us a Little About Yourself?
Meghan Kluth – I live in Colorado and joined the Center for Public Partnerships and Research in 2020 as a fully remote staff member. Prior to CPPR, I worked in social services and led a program supporting individuals with special health care needs and their caregivers. I was excited by the opportunity to continue this work in new ways in my home state of Kansas.
Shala London – I moved to Lawrence from Oklahoma 25 years ago and began working at KU as a graduate student for the Small Business Development Center. I spent several years there helping local businesses start up and grow. Prior to CPPR, I worked for KU’s School of Education helping teachers integrate economic thinking and personal finance instruction into math, science, and history curricula.
What Attracted You To Your Field?
Meghan – We all need a little help at different times in our lives. In social services, it is often a challenge for families to access what they need in a timely and affordable manner. I truly believe we can do better by, for, and with families to create and sustain systems that help all of us thrive.
Shala – I began at CPPR as a grant writer. Much like the process of writing a business plan for a startup, I enjoyed helping ideas come to fruition and shaping project plans to meet the needs of children and families. As CPPR grew and expanded those first few years, we identified a need for strategic framing and designing of reports and proposals that translated CPPR research into compelling communications. By starting up a Design Team within CPPR, I was able to combine my passions for writing, framing, and designing while helping our new organization grow.
What Populations Do You or Your Center Support?
CPPR’s mission is to optimize the well-being of children, youth, and families. We partner with organizations and communities to research, implement, and evaluate solutions to meet the unique and evolving needs of individuals and families.
What Are Your or Your Center’s Key Projects?
We manage a variety of projects that span the holistic needs of youth and families, including early childhood services, child welfare, food security, and housing. We are always looking for ways to strengthen what works for families and communities and to address pain points. Our team’s passion for exploring new approaches inspired us to create an idea incubation process to help our staff break down complex challenges into small, testable solutions. Along with CPPR Assistant Director, Sara Gardner, we [Shala and Megan] launched the incubation process in 2021 and have since led two internal cohorts for staff to implement these minimal viable product (MVP) solutions.
What Are Some Future Opportunities or Upcoming Initiatives That Excite You?
Developing the incubation process and seeing it in action has been inspiring. Our talented, multidisciplinary staff have fantastic ideas, and this process creates the space to develop, test, and evaluate ideas through an incubation toolkit. We have primarily used this process with our internal teams so far and are excited to explore how we can begin using it with colleagues and partners beyond CPPR.
Our next internal incubation cohort will be formed this fall. CPPR staff are encouraged to form teams to explore problems they encounter in their daily work. Using the incubation toolkit, teams interrogate those problems, identify possible solutions, and select a single testable idea to implement. On Pitch Day, all CPPR staff are invited to cheer on their colleagues as the teams pitch these ideas while volunteers (the Pitch Crew) score them using a rubric designed to select mission-driven ideas with potential for impact.
What About Working at a Mission-Driven Organization Like AAI Appeals to You?
Meghan – I appreciate that while we’re all working toward common goals to improve family outcomes, our teams bring unique skills, backgrounds, and perspectives to the work. This creates opportunities for innovation and ways of thinking about systems transformation that supports families and communities in new ways. We can try things, see what works and what doesn’t, adjust, and try again. We can learn as much, if not more, from what doesn’t go as planned as what does. This iterative model helps us be responsive to the needs of our partners and the people they serve.
Shala – I echo Meghan’s appreciation for the range of talent and perspectives our staff bring to the work of solving complex problems. I especially enjoy the opportunity to learn about new academic research and methodologies and to help translate findings into possibilities for action and direct impact.