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“Stepping Back to Light the Way” – A Shift the Power Podcast

New Moms was recently featured on Global Learning Partners’ Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast. The episode highlights the impact of a case study we did together to document our amazing science-informed social enterpriseBright Endeavors. Join Director of Workforce Development Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal and Director of Learning and Innovation Dana Emanuel as they share the impact of the case study one year later – within New Moms and in the broader field. 

Click above to listen to the podcast, and you can also listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or virtually anywhere podcasts are found!

Read the full transcript for the episode below.

In 2019, The Annie E. Casey Foundation commissioned Global Learning Partners to observe New Moms’ implementation of Executive Skills – the brain-based capabilities that act as an “air traffic control system” to help us organize things, plan things, and get things done – into our Job Training program. The goal was to document insights from our work through a learning-centered case study and generate learning tools, videos, and supplemental materials to support others in the field interested in applying Executive Skills to their own work. You can read the full Executive Skills Implementation Case Study and access the companion Implementation Toolkit on our website!


Meg (9s): [ INTRO MUSIC] Hello, and welcome to Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast, where we talk about the revolutionary power of a learning-centered approach. Through this podcast, we hope to inspire creative thinking and provide practical tools and techniques to deepen learning through dialogue.

I’m your host Meg Logue and I’m joined today by my guest co-host and colleague Val Uccellani, who’s a Senior Partner and Co-Owner of GLP. Today we’re also joined by Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal and Dana Emanuel from New Moms. They’re here to talk about the impact of a case study we did together to document their amazing science-informed social enterprise. Welcome Gabrielle and Dana. So to start us off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your organization?

Director of Learning and Innovation Dana Emanuel

Dana (54s): Thanks Meg. We’re so happy to be here. This is Dana Emanuel. I’m New Moms Director of Learning and Innovation, and I’ve been at New Moms in various roles since 2010 and New Moms supports young families as they progress towards and achieve their goals for economic mobility and family well-being in our Job Training, Family Support and Housing programs.

Gabrielle (1m 19s): Hi Meg. Thanks for that wonderful intro. This is Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal speaking. I am the Director of Workforce Development at New Moms, and I’ve been there since 2007 in that role. So we are a transitional jobs training program that works with young moms under the age of 24 in the Chicagoland area, making and manufacturing soy-based candles.

Val (1m 45s): Hi everyone. This is Val and it’s so nice to chat with you, both Dana and Gabrielle today. And you know, before Global Learning Partners came to know you, New Moms had already been what I would call a quiet leader in using insights from behavioral and brain science to inform your work. So I’d love for you to tell our listeners a little bit more about the innovative work that you were doing in this arena and the players involved before we, we met you.

Director of Workforce Development Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal

Gabrielle (2m 16s): Sure. We really started learning about the science of scarcity and its impact on behavior and goals back in- starting around 2015 and 2016, and we entered into a pilot from that point. Since most of our young moms at our agency have experienced some forms of scarcity, such as housing instability, we knew that scarcity and the science of adolescent brain development could really teach us a lot. So in 2016, the Annie E Casey foundation approached our workforce development department, AKA our job training program, to really partner with us for a pilot in translating brain and behavioral science of executive skills into youth focus, job training.

Val (2m 59s): That’s so great Gabrielle, and you can see why Global Learning Partners was rather thrilled when the Casey Foundation in turn reached out to us to see if we could document some of your innovations and bring some of your insights to the larger field of human services. And Global Learning Partners felt fairly well-positioned to do that because we had been working in partnership with Dick Guare and other experts in the brain and behavioral science field, along with Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, both of whom are really devoted to helping programs make sense of research that’s out there and using it to inform their work.

We knew that a case study of New Moms was a great opportunity to advance the field, and then also I think to provide you all with some valuable reflection time. You know when you’re doing the kind of work that you all do day-in and day-out, it’s hard I think to really carve out a pause time and say, okay, what are we learning? And what is that telling us about where we want to go as we scale this approach to all corners of the organization? So we were, we were really grateful to be able to work with you on this case study and documenting your work, hoping that it would in the end, both celebrate your approach and be a practical examination of it from which we all could learn.

So I’m wondering for you both, what-what were you hoping to get out of the case study? What was your vision of what you’d accomplish from the case study?

Gabrielle (4m 44s): Our vision for embarking on the case study was to create a learning tool for all implementation and program improvement processes. And to really bake executive skills into our program either by writing it down, getting more clear about describing the approach within our programs, training our coaches and also for our participants to really understand and be able to implement this within their own lives, personal and professional, as they advance towards their goals, and recognizing them and building them within their children as well.

Dana (5m 17s): I’ll also say that, you know, we had been intensively focused on executive skills in our workforce development program, and we were seeing such success, among participants and coaches and the outcomes that we were achieving, that we also wanted to scale executive skills-based coaching and goal setting into our housing and family support programs, you know, so that we could support all 400 young moms that New Moms serves a year with executive skills-informed coaching. And so this tool would also give us, like you said, Val,  the time to reflect on what learnings we had in our pilot, so that we could expand it to the whole program. So we really wanted to use that case study as a foundation for internal scaling, as well as a foundation for creating an executive skills implementation tool for other practitioners who wanted to apply executive skills approaches to their programs.

Meg (6m 18s): Wonderful.

Val (6m 19s): Thank you.

Meg (6m 20s): Thank you, Dana and Gabrielle, for laying that vision out. It sounds like such a powerful opportunity to both get that internal clarity, as you said, and also really bring the work that you all are doing – and a clear vision of how you can make this happen in other organizations. So, such a powerful opportunity. So Val, I’m actually gonna turn to you now and just ask you a little bit about when Annie Casey Foundation reached out to you, how did you initially decide to approach the case study? How were we able to, you know, coming from your learning-centered background, how are you able to apply a learning-centered approach in this context of a case study?

Val (7m 5s): You know, Meg, I hear you ask that question now I’m kind of chuckling because how could Global Learning Partners not apply a learning-centered approach to the case study? I think that would have been the greater challenge. Right. You know, but if I think about how really, what- what was driving for us in terms of bringing that approach to the case study, I’d say the first is really to honor the central tenant of a learning-centered approach, which is to actively involve the learners. Right? So in this case study, we knew from the start, that the way this was going to play out was that we would not be objective observers, seeing what we saw sitting at our desks and writing it up.

But rather we were going to actively involve, in this case, the wonderful New Moms team first and foremost, in really thinking through what would be the best approach to the case study, what made most sense, how were we going to prioritize the use of our time on it? What would they most want to see in the end? And then to kind of share our discoveries with the team as we had them, so that they could help us make meaning of what we were seeing and what we were hearing. So very much in dialogue, right, involving the New Moms team. And Dana and Gabrielle, I do want to say how grateful we were that, with all that you all have on your plates, you did carve out the time to do that with us — to really be- be partners and to give us input and reactions along the way.

And I think of one example of that, I know we saw that, although you- y’all had been using the term “executive skills approach”. We thought it might be valuable to the readers of the case study to have a clearer definition of what are really the components of that approach, if we break them down, and then to even have a graphic that visually captures what’s meant by an executive skills approach. And you really co-created that with us. Again, we didn’t sit at our desks and do that. We drafted things up, but certainly it ended up being what it was because we brought our perspectives and- and your perspectives to that.

So that’s an example, Meg, of really actively involving the learners for the case study in the case study itself. And then of course, the New Moms team, in turn, connected us directly to other colleagues at New Moms, as well as the young mothers themselves who participate in the program, so that they also could be active in- in feeding what we were learning and what we were seeing and how we were making meaning out of that.

Meg, if it’s okay with you, I’d love to also share just another way that we brought the learning-centered approach, and this gets a little more tactical, but there’s a tried and true framework of Dialogue Education, which is the system that we use to really implement a learning-centered approach. And, and that framework is Ask, Study, Observe. It’s deceptively simple, but we used that ask, study, observe framework to- to map out what would be the key elements of the case study. And we used it to check ourselves along the way to make sure that we were really looking at this innovative and complex and continually evolving work from many different angles.

So for example, the Study — we studied some of the materials that the New Moms team provided us with, the curricula they use, the handouts and resources that they provide to their participants.

Observe. We also observed, we came, I think it was three times over the course of the development of the case study to Chicago. And we spent some time in the candle factory, which is a beautiful and amazing and inspiring place, but it’s also a very informative place when it came to trying to understand the way the executive skills approach plays out in the rituals of the day-to-day work, there in the candle factory. And we observed classes, the job-readiness classes and saw the way they are really infused with concepts of- of an executive skills approach.

And then finally, I’ll say that that ask, study, observe framework — the Ask portion of it — when you really unpack it, it invites you to think who, who are all the people we should be asking questions of. We had interviews with members of the CABs team with Dick Guare with folks from the Annie Casey Foundation, of course. And we also spoke with staff and participants at New Moms. And we very specifically asked if we could actually follow one small cohort of women from the start of the program to the end, by meeting with them over Zoom at the same time each week, and really hearing whatever was coming up for them in terms of how they were experiencing the use of this executive skills approach in the program. So that-that framework served us, served us well.

Meg (12m 22s): Absolutely. You know, Val, just hearing you talk about that framework and the different components of how we really approach that case study is bringing back a lot of memories for me, of some of my favorite parts of working on that case study project, were the opportunities we had to go to Chicago and be on the floor of the candle-making factory, just seeing the whole process and how, how the executive skills approach was really baked in was fascinating for me as an observer. And I also loved the opportunity, like you mentioned to- to really follow that one cohort from the start to the finish of their program. It was so interesting to hear what they were thinking and feeling as, as the process unfolded, as they went through this program and to see how they really came into their own. And you can, you can see the effectiveness of the approach over the, over that span of time. So I just want to say, thank you, Dana and Gabrielle for letting us get that window into, into your work. Dana and Gabrielle, if you could share, what was the process like for you? What was your experience of- of this journey and some of the highlights from the journey that we had together?

Dana (13m 38s): Well, I will say that partnering with GLP was one of the best engagements with a partner that we’ve had at New Moms. Truly, we saw Ask, Study, Observe framework, like come to life in working with Val and Meg and the rest of the GLP team. You know, from the get-go GLP, you, you were very intentional about working with us to set up mutual goals, really take the time upfront to envision what the end deliverable of this case study could be, what we wanted to get out of it, not just maybe what a funder or what GLP wanted, but what we could gain from this as well. And you all set up a very clear timeline with intermediate deadlines that we stuck to as well. So that’s always a highlight.

I would say too, you know, in a lot of our conversations, Val’s reflective and open-ended questions were truly a model of listening to understand. This Ask piece and part of your framework, it kind of like talking with Val is like going on a walk with a friend, really like the conversations were caring and energizing and also quite purposeful. We knew why we were talking and that’s valuable in a busy workday schedule, you know.

You also mentioned the visual, the graphic that we kind of co-created with you to demonstrate or illustrate the executive skills approach. That was a major highlight for me in thinking about how to, you know, make this approach accessible for an external reader. And I really credit the GLP team for being so creative and thinking about how to present from the learner’s point of view, this executive skills kind of approach. And we use that graphic all the time now in our staff training in our own internal kind of organizational tools and it really has brought so much more color and nuance to our approach.

Gabrielle (15m 40s): I will say, too, when we started this process, we were also in the midst of establishing some fidelity to our new program model. And I think for staff, it was really encouraging to feel like we are on the right track here, we’re doing something right. And something that is bigger than ourselves, that we can really grasp onto as a culture and approach, and really embed not just for this workforce program, but for programs beyond ourselves, even within the other areas that New Moms. What else came out of it, I’ll say is, we really got to observe from a bird’s eye view, what was going on. Things that all staff weren’t able to see — we were operating at two different sites, there’s a lot going on. There’s all the coaching and the program- programmatic elements that were happening as well as the social enterprise and the business operations, and you really got back- got to step back and observe the whole process from beginning to end and give us a really comprehensive view of what was happening and some areas that were, I will say, food for thought.

Meg (16m 49s): I love hearing the fact that this case study afforded you all the opportunity to kind of step out of the day-to-day of scarcity and the scarcity mindset. It sounds like the case study really allowed you all the opportunity to, like you said, Gabrielle, get that bird’s eye view alongside us. So thank you for sharing that.

So in the end, as you all know, we were able to co-create a full case study with text and graphics, as well as a short video with highlights that kind of gave us the overview of the longer case study. And both of those things live on your New Moms website, along with a wonderful toolkit that you all created to guide other projects through the use of this ES approach. How- I’m curious to hear a little bit more about the impacts. You know, it’s been a little while since that case study was completed. How has the case study really shifted your thinking? And what were some of the key takeaways for you, for your teams and maybe New Moms more broadly?

Gabrielle (17m 54s): One of the things that stood out specifically was our- our work around environmental modifications. And environmental modifications is really how you modify the environment when it comes to physical space or materials or task or certain processes and procedures to really help alleviate barriers and support participant goal achievement. And what we found is that that was kind of the hidden element, if you will, of- of the- of the approach. It’s one of the most influential things that we were doing in our program, but we weren’t explicitly calling it out as much as we should.

And so we really got to think about what are some ways that we can incorporate more guidance, not only about how to use this in our day-to-day coaching, when our participants are in program, but how they can use this in their own personal lives to move towards their goals once they are complete with our program and also how to build this just in their everyday lives, beyond New Moms, Bright Endeavors, right? So what we have certainly done is now we just call it by name and we weren’t necessarily doing that before, or we’re very clear about when we are experiencing barriers in their personal coaching, or when we are thinking about how to pivot things on the production floor.

We say, okay, let’s think about some of the environmental modifications that we could make here. Instead of saying, you know, how can we brainstorm to solve this problem? We really explicitly call it out now. And we weren’t doing that as much before. And so that is one area of growth, definitely. The other area of growth that we have used is this idea around executive skills knowledge. And again, executive skills, knowledge is really learning how your executive skills develop and manifest as behaviors in a workforce setting, and really using this information to guide conversation with your colleagues and your- or the other participants when you’re in program, and using your executive skills profile to do that.

And so we always had them take their executive skills profile, and it is a self-assessment, and then we have a board, if you will, in which all of our executive skills, strengths and struggles, are displayed. And so we’re able to really appeal to how to help each other maximize strengths and mitigate struggles in our work at Bright Endeavors.

Dana (20m 31s): The other thing, if I can chime in here as well, that this case study helped to shift our thinking about how we, you know, scaled executive skills from Gabrielle’s Job Training program, to our Housing and Family Support programs too. We kind of adopted the learning-centered approach that we had observed Val and Meg, you take with the Job Training team and the case study by thinking about like, okay, how can we translate with our coaches and our participants in the Housing and Family Supports programs? How can we translate what we learned in job training to their programs?

So we actively involved the coaches and participants from the other programs in building out the strategies and tools for their programs. And that made the scaling and implementation, the adaptive change, for those programs much easier as well. And it helped set us up to create an agency-wide theory of change that is grounded in executive skills, environmental modifications, executive skills knowledge, and practice of executive skills-based goal setting. And that really helped, it was a result I would say, of the case study and the clarity that we got from that shift in mindset from that case study process.

Val (21m 59s): Thank you both for reflecting on some of those impacts of the case study. I’m wondering what ripple effects you’ve seen or you expect from this investment, really, that was made in documenting your innovative work?

Dana (22m 16s): Just as the executive skills case study was getting published and posted on our website. We started to hear from other workforce development organizations and peer human service organizations that they were curious about learning more about executive skills. So we were thrilled to have the case study and then our implementation toolkit that we created as a supplemental and complimentary document available and ready to- to share. So right, after- just a couple months after the case study was published Gabrielle and I were able to do a training with about 50 workforce development practitioners on the executive skills approach — using Meg, your graphic visual, and some of the other visuals from the case study.

And from there, we were able, we’ve also been able to provide one-on-one training and technical assistance for organizations that have read the case study, tried to start to use the toolkit and want to continue to deepen their executive skills strategies in their programs. So we have seen the ripple effects of the case study through the excitement from the workforce development landscape and from the opportunity that other organizations are going to have to implement executive skills, based on this case study.

Val (23m 40s): That’s so great. I’m going to jump in here with just a reaction to that as I’m listening to your last comments, and really so many of your comments throughout this conversation today, I’m realizing what a contribution you all are making to the field. Not only by deeply studying the brain and behavioral science and looking at ways that you can take that research and apply it to your program, but by really being conduits to the field for folks who would not otherwise take the time to really study the research and make enough sense of it, to apply it to their programs. You know, researchers are great at communicating their research to other researchers typically. It’s the rare few who really focus on how are we going to translate this so that it makes sense to decision-makers and practitioners in the field. And so the fact that you all are not only taking that research and making your program better by it, but also putting yourself out there to say, we can help translate this for other programs. I just, I- I know that you’re making a huge contribution by doing that.

Dana (24m 59s): Thank you.

Gabrielle (24m 60s): Thank you for that, Val.

Meg (25m 2s): Val, I’m curious to hear from you just to kind of wrap us up. What do you feel is a key takeaway for other learning designers or facilitators who might be curious about how to bring a learning-centered approach to an opportunity like this one?

Val (25m 18s): You know, Meg, if I could start off with a thought that’s surfacing now that wouldn’t have surfaced, if you’d even asked me 15 minutes ago, and it’s- it’s really centered on the learning-centered principles that often go unnamed, but are undergirding everything, everything we do in the field. One of those principles that’s calling out to me right now is that principle of respect. And I think from our very first encounter with New Moms, we-we knew that everything they do is also driven by that principle of respect. The way staff talk with each other, the way staff interact with participants, the way decisions are made in the program is really so respectful of what’s happening in the lives of the women who are assumed to be, or are new moms.

And so I think bringing that same principle of respect to the case study, respecting the work that we were there to honor and celebrate and communicate, but also respecting all of the people involved in that work and trying to make sure that by doing the case study, we weren’t interfering with the work, but we were supporting it. And so, yeah, respecting the work and respecting the people doing that work when conducting a case study, I think is one of the first things I’m really gonna say, I’d encourage others to keep in mind as they approach tasks like this.

Meg (26m 55s): Thank you, Val. Those are very important insights. And I know you can’t see me, but I just was enthusiastically nodding my head throughout everything that you just said, especially, especially the piece about the, the respect that we could see and feel on the floor at New Moms, everywhere that we went. It was so clear to me that this is a program that is founded on respect for the young women that you are working with. You could see and feel it everywhere you went at New Moms.

Val (27m 29s): For sure. And if I may, on a more maybe practical level for those listening say, yeah, give me something more practical about doing a case study. I want to say that, you know, case studies often are long written documents. And I won’t say that we didn’t create a long written document, we did. And yet we were well aware that there’s a lot of folks out there who would benefit from what the case study has to offer, who are not going to read a long written document. And so, again, gratitude to New Moms to being flexible about how we also wanted to create a snapshot. We created a journey, a visual journey of a participant’s experience in the workforce development program.

What happens first? What happens next? What happens after that? And then in a one-pager really showing some highlights of how the executive skills approach is integrated into each step of that journey. And I know that there are some people out there who didn’t read anything else in the case study, except maybe that one-pager. And then we invited Gabrielle to do a video with us, a short video and Meg your production of that, and Gabrielle your presence in that I thought was just marvelous in that it gave people yet another vehicle, right, for accessing the content of the case study without having to read a word.

So I think I would just encourage listeners to also think in terms of what are the different ways in which you can communicate the findings of a case study so that busy folks in the field can access them.

Meg (29m 10s): Huge, absolutely huge. Could not agree more. Well I’d- I’d also love to hear Dana and Gabrielle, what might you share with other organizations that are doing similar work, where they feel like they’re a leader in the field and they might be interested in documenting the innovations that they’re involved in? What advice would you have for them?

Gabrielle (29m 32s): I think my advice would be don’t hesitate. I think initially I may have had a little bit of hesitation at the thought of folks just coming in and watching us for- for a period of time. But like I mentioned earlier, it was very respectful. It really boosted morale. It really showed a lot of the-the beginning to end processes that were happening because you can’t be everywhere at once. If you’re a leader of something like this it’s really hard to be in all places. And especially if you have a commitment to fidelity and a commitment to amplify the participant voice, it is something important to- to really consider, to make sure that you are actually doing the work that you think you are.

And so I would say don’t hesitate. It was a- it was a wonderful experience. And it wasn’t all good all the time, right? When you are doing this type of work and you are in service to people, in the way that we are, things can get ugly at times. And you all saw it all, and we were happy for you to see it and to experience that- what it is to be on the ground, with you being in service to people and really walking people through some of the hardest times of their lives. So I was really grateful that you got to be there and experience the process, but at the end of the day, you saw the respect and the care and the commitment to the values that we have as an agency to our participants, and how they held themselves up to a certain standard because of their interactions with us.

So — don’t hesitate. It- it was a wonderful experience. I would-I would do it again. And I would encourage anyone who was on the fence to- to jump over.

Dana (31m 25s): I concur Gabrielle. And I would say that for anybody who is on the fence and is wondering how to jump over, to take a moment to like close your eyes, if that’s comfortable, and imagine what could be the result or the possibilities that come from documenting your innovations. What audacious things could happen from this. And we were lucky that Val led us through that type of exercise at the beginning of ours, of our process and we encourage any of the listeners to imagine for a moment what could come from it. And then also to commit to engaging many different perspectives in your documentation.

So this case study is so much better because GLP talked with Gabrielle, members of New Moms’ Executive Leadership team, other coaches in the Job Training program, the staff at Bright Endeavors, our social enterprise, and spent a lot of time observing, asking our participants about their experience. And with that breadth of perspective, we really emerged with a much fuller picture and truer case study. And that would be my advice, is to really engage your full team of perspectives in documenting whatever innovations you are involved with.

Meg (32m 49s): Thank you both! Such inspiring words. I want to thank you for joining us today, for sharing your experience and your perspectives on what was for me, one of my favorite projects that I have worked on in my time with GLP. So thank you, Dana and Gabrielle, for joining us and sharing today.

Gabrielle (33m 8s): You’re welcome, Meg. Thank you.

Dana (33m 10s): Thanks so much.

Val (33m 12s): Thank you.

Meg (33m 13s): And now to our audience, our listeners, I encourage you to go to New Moms’ website and check out the case study, the executive summary, the video, all of the things that we’ve been referencing throughout this episode. And also to our listeners as always, we end with an away question for you to really pause and ponder what you’ve heard today.

So here is your away for today: What innovative work are you involved in that you’d like to reflect on and convey to others? How might you maximize the learning that comes from such an effort?

[ OUTRO MUSIC ] Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered podcast. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton with music by Una Walkenhorst. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services, free resources or blogs, go to We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast, and find us on social media to continue the dialogue. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or your preferred podcast playing [OUTRO MUISIC FADES]

This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton JR.

Theme music: ‘Pretty Face’ by Una Walkenhorst.