Case Study

Removing Barriers to Early Childhood Access

Statewide Needs Assessment and Strategic Planning: Buffett Early Childhood Institute


As a research and policy institute of the University of Nebraska, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute promotes the learning and development of children from birth through age 8. Supported by the University’s resources, their work spans applied research, provider and educator training, public policy, and outreach. With a particular focus on children who are at risk due to poverty, developmental delays, or abuse, the Institute champions equitable early childhood services for each child and family in the state of Nebraska.

Buffett Early Childhood Institute


When they engaged Dr. Duke for assessment and planning services, the Institute had never conducted a statewide needs assessment of families’ access to quality early childhood care and education. Without this crucial data, they struggled to identify specific gaps and barriers, structure their work around those areas of focus, and organize successful requests for funding. They urgently needed to get input from as many stakeholders as possible with their first-ever statewide needs assessment. The Institute also needed help creating their first statewide strategic plan based on that real-world data.


The scope of this project required meaningful engagement with a vast number of stakeholders, both at the Institute and in Nebraska’s communities. Dr. Duke guided the project from needs assessment to stakeholder engagement, and through to a finished, data-driven strategic plan that was ready to implement. To accomplish this, she:

Oversaw the development and execution of a statewide needs assessment, surveying parents and child care providers through focus groups and targeted interviews

Presented findings in communities across the state in two rounds of engagement, inviting families, child care providers, and community partners to contribute ideas

Analyzed the quantitative and qualitative stakeholder data, and drafted a strategic plan

Revised the plan in collaboration with a taskforce of early childhood collaborators and leaders


Within 12 months, the Institute had their first strategic plan, completed in March 2020 (see Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan). This aligned organizations across the state for more effective collaboration, unifying both the structure of their work and how progress was defined and measured. It also greatly simplified the process of writing successful requests for state funding, as well as reporting outcomes to funders. Based on the success of this project, the original funding was extended, and Dr. Duke has an ongoing engagement updating the Institute’s strategic plan. This involves developing communication materials and strategies, as well as ongoing stakeholder engagement.

Case Study Testimonials

“In her work helping create Nebraska’s Early Childhood Strategic Plan, Hallie has taken a complex idea and represented it as an integrated and comprehensible model. Whether operating independently or with a team, her incredible work ethic, commitment, expertise, and innovative methods are evident. She has established important partnerships through her ability to be non-judgmental, open to ideas, and responsive to feedback. The Strategic Plan she has helped build has aligned partners in an effort to redefine quality early childhood services and provide access to all Nebraska families. It will have a significant impact long term for children, families, and providers.”

Shannon Mitchell-Boekstal, Project Manager, Preschool Development Grant