In their ongoing pursuit to understand the drivers behind student success, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in conjunction with Global Good (a collaboration with Intellectual Ventures), set out to explore the topic of executive function. Executive function (EF) is the set of cognitive skills we use to control our thoughts, actions, and emotions in order to achieve a particular goal. Our client wanted to answer a variety of questions: What is the relationship between EF and student outcomes? What kind of impact do EF interventions produce? What are the most interesting and effective products that measure and improve EF?
The foundation asked Intentional Futures to drive this investigation. Our task was to synthesize the research, find the most illuminating products in the space, and design a half-day learning experience for senior leadership from the Gates Foundation, Global Good, and Intellectual Ventures. We combined interactive cognitive assessments, live product demonstrations, and presentations by experts to reveal the most pressing insights regarding EF and its surprisingly powerful relationship to student success.
We immersed ourselves in the literature on executive function and conducted interviews with neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, seminal researchers, and practitioners. The report we created synthesized our understanding of the space and prepared participants for the live session.
During the session, we wanted the participants to experience the nuances of EF first-hand. To do that, we developed four different digital cognitive assessments, created directly from research examples. Experiences ranged from quickly sorting items according to ever-changing rules, to completing a set of real-world tasks in a virtual mall. Each assessment highlighted a different aspect of EF, giving participants personal experience with the content.