I can hardly believe a full week has gone by as I reflect on the amazing time we spent convening last week. What a fantastic few days! This year, which marked the first official Annual Forum of NNERPP as an organization (see 2014 Agenda here and 2015 Agenda here, where the meetings were hosted by the Houston Education Research Consortium), was the largest one yet, with over 75 folks representing state and local agencies that administer education, research institutions, foundations, and policy advocacy groups from across the U.S.
Hosted in association with the one of our members, the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, this convening featured a broad range of topics aimed at improving the productivity of research-practice partnerships in education. Although several participants were attending for the first time, friendships were formed quickly, and folks were eager to dive deep into how to make this type of work better. While the full agenda can be viewed here, some of the highlights included job-alike huddles that grouped participants among three job roles: the directors of research-practice partnerships, the leaders of RPPs that work in education agencies, and associates in the partnerships (such as post-docs or graduate students).
Here we discussed the types of skills required to work in an education research-practice partnership (note: fostering trusting relationships built on mutual respect is a top demand) and we also thought more carefully about how we might assess whether RPPs are in fact “effective” (it was fascinating to hear the diversity in suggestions given the different job roles represented within the partnership!).
We also benefitted from hearing Kim DuMont of the William T. Grant Foundation share knowledge around how research evidence is (or is not) used in practice. This session featured two member partnerships in our network, the Houston Education Research Consortium and the UChicago Consortium on School Research. Carla Stevens and Ruth López Turley (HERC) and Sarah Dickson and Kylie Klein (UChicago Consortium) shared their experiences on how research projects conducted through the partnership impacted decision making within their respective school districts once it was completed.
We also reserved time to facilitate several breakout sessions. Here, participants were encouraged to bring ideas, share experiences, and learn from each other on important RPP-related topics such as supporting implementation of research findings, how to communicate with an external audience, issues to consider when navigating highly political environments, and tips for those interested in building a new partnership. We made use of several post-it boards and markers throughout the sessions – interactive participation among attendees was a key priority.
We even had time to connect while dining together! Several of our participants graciously agreed to host informal “table talks” on additional topics that Forum attendees indicated high interest in exploring via our pre-Forum survey. These included conversations about Improvement Science, Design Based Implementation Research, how to address leadership turnover when working in a partnership, ESSA implementation, and strategies to secure funding for those in middle to later phases of partnership work.
Speaking of ESSA implementation, we also had the pleasure of hearing the varied perspectives of several organizations that are interacting with ESSA as it moves forward. Our next steps are to think about how research-practice partnerships fit into the newly adopted bill…stay tuned!
Our final “team building” activity of the Forum was to squeeze in for a group photo on one of the many staircases of the gorgeous Le Pavillon hotel, where our meeting was held.
Pulling off such a fantastic meeting involved the work of many folks, which I’d like to acknowledge in this final space: immense gratitude for the thoughtful participation of the attendees, Jim Kohlmoos (Senior Advisor to NNERPP), the NNERPP Steering Committee members, Margaret De Sosa and Bill Fulton of the Kinder Institute, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, note-taking powerhouses from the Houston Education Research Consortium and ERA New Orleans, and of course, our funders (William T. Grant Foundation, Spencer Foundation, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Wallace Foundation, and Annie E. Casey Foundation), without which this meeting could not have taken place.
As those in attendance know, NNERPP: Phase 2 has officially launched. I could not be more thrilled!