Fitting Puzzle Pieces Together

The definition of success is when cities recognize the importance of early childhood education and make it a regular part of their programs. This is precisely what has happened with primano, the early childhood education program in the city of Bern. Ten years ago, the Jacobs Foundation played a major role in initiating this program, and it has provided substantial support throughout the development phase.

In a conversation with the editors of the newsletter, program directors Mona Baumann and Annemarie Tschumper explained how primano has become such a success story.

How did the primano early childhood education program come to be a regular part of Bern’s services? 

Mona Baumann: I should point out that the process took over ten years; we built up the program slowly, step by step. We began by implementing and then carefully evaluating a pilot project in four selected districts. Part of the program was then adopted by the city of Bern, and we were able to expand early childhood education throughout the city.

Annemarie Tschumper: Primano is now well established, and the need for it in Bern is widely recognized. Staff members are no longer hired on a temporary basis, but are employees of the city’s administration. We are pleased and proud of our success.

What factors led to that success?

Annemarie Tschumper: One was the decision to make primano part of the city’s health services and to link it to school-based medical services. This allowed us to gather conclusive evidence on progress and improvements. It was also important for the pilot phase to be long enough. The first three years were devoted to organizing and establishing the program, which left two years to prepare for parliament’s budget decision. External sponsors played a significant role, particularly the Jacobs Foundation. The foundation provided one million Swiss francs to support the pilot project, and demonstrated its confidence in the follow-up program by contributing additional funding.

Mona Baumann: Making sure that existing early childhood programs were involved also contributed to our success. Rather than creating a new program from scratch, ignoring the initiatives that were already in place, we brought a number of such initiatives on board and encouraged them to interact and communicate with one another. Networking within the districts was just as important as networking with, and within, government agencies. We also encouraged an active exchange of knowledge, bringing together practical insights from the districts with the knowledge gathered by the municipal services. District-level actors were able to identify with the program, and they lent their support. Instead of regarding us as a competitor, they saw themselves as pieces of a puzzle.

How were you able to gain the support of policymakers?

Annemarie Tschumper: The fact that the program was associated with the municipal administration (within the Directorate of Education, Social Welfare and Sport) increased its visibility and ensured a certain level of stability and continuity. It was not merely a short-term project, but became part of the administrative structure. Administrative agencies are required to submit regular reports, so policymakers were kept informed. This ensured that the project achieved a certain degree of permanence rather than being just a short-lived effort. We also served as an intermediary between the relatively abstract policy sphere and concrete action in the districts. Our credibility was bolstered by the ability to respond quickly to situations on the ground. For example, when we learned that costs were preventing some parents from sending their children to a play group, we were able to find a quick and efficient solution by providing supplementary funding. And people in the districts saw that responsible parties in the city were hearing their concerns.

Of course, we also engaged in traditional PR work, for example releasing the evaluation of the pilot project to the broader public. We were fortunate that policymakers were favorably disposed to our efforts and that our political superiors offered strong support for primano.

What might other programs learn from primano’s success?

Mona Baumann: It is really important to emphasize the importance of networking. This is also a fundamental aspect of the follow-up Primokiz program. In Bern, every section of the city has a primano coordination office, which organizes roundtables to “take the pulse” of the population on a regular basis and respond to the needs and wishes of parents and children.

Annemarie Tschumper: A logo is also extremely helpful in raising awareness of primano as a set of programs throughout the city. This makes it easier for people to recognize the various resources that are available to parents. They might be familiar with the logo from the playground, for example, and then encounter it again in the course of a home visit.

Where will primano be in five years?

Mona Baumann: Our goal in five years is for primano to maintain its position as a well-established component of the city’s services that is alert and open to new ideas and societal changes. It is crucial to be able to try out new approaches so that we can grow along with the city and society, rather than standing still.

Annemarie Tschumper: We hope to be able to maintain stability while also remaining flexible.