Case Study

Statewide Strategic Planning To Promote Equitable Access To Early Childhood Services

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


As part of federal funding under the Preschool Development Grant, the state of Nebraska was charged with conducting a needs assessment and then developing a state-wide strategic plan to increase access to quality early childhood care and education. As the lead for this activity under the grant, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute hired me as a consultant to oversee and coordinate the needs assessment and strategic plan development processes from 2019 to 2023.


The scope of this project required meaningful engagement with a wide range of early childhood collaborators in Nebraska, from state agencies to community leaders to early childhood professionals. 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

Designed stakeholder engagement for hundreds of early childhood collaborators in focus groups across the state with the aim of identifying and prioritizing strategies to improve access to quality early care and education

Having committed to elevating Equity in the process and the plan, reached historically underrepresented communities by training local facilitators to host focus groups in their own community

Analyzed the qualitative stakeholder feedback to identify themes and priorities, which led directly to the articulation of the goals, objectives, and strategies of the plan


The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan is a call to action for early childhood collaborators to work together to support early childhood professionals in all settings and to ensure all children and families have equitable access to the quality early childhood services they need to thrive. This strategic plan includes two key features that set it apart from typical plans.

  1. The plan lays out a commitment to equitable access to quality early childhood care and education for all children. In every goal, the plan calls on agencies, partners, and professionals to review their own programs and processes to determine if they can make changes that will increase equitable access to quality early care and education.
  2. Nebraskans created a new definition of quality in early care and education that emphasizes equity as an essential element of quality. The definition began with the best early childhood research has to offer and was enhanced by the voices of families and early childhood providers.

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