Conversations with NCRPP: How can Research-Practice Partnerships Support Educational Leaders’ Use of Research?


Caitlin Farrell

Caitlin Farrell

Director, NCRPP

Note: We’re cross-blogging in September with NCRPP and NNERPP! Read below for how partnerships can play an important role in research use in education. Head over to the NCRPP website for Paula’s report on the recent NNERPP annual forum.

The National Center for Research in Policy and Practice studies how educational leaders—including school district leaders and principals—use research when making decisions and what can be done to make research findings more useful and relevant for those leaders. Earlier this year, we released findings from our survey of 733 educational leaders in the nation’s mid- and large-sized school districts. Together, the findings create a portrait of district work where research-practice partnerships can play a critical role.


District leaders viewed research as valuable, credible, and relevant. Respondents reported very positive attitudes about the value of educational research, with nearly all endorsing the ideas that research can address practical problems and that researchers provide a valuable service to educational practitioners. Leaders endorsed the idea that research is relevant to practice, but indicated that the time lag between conducting and publishing research can decrease its usefulness.

District leaders used research to inform decisions, expand understanding, and persuade others. Respondents most commonly reported instrumental use of research. Common forms of instrumental use were to design professional development for teachers and administrators and direct resources to programs. With respect to conceptual use, 71% of respondents indicated that the research they encountered had expanded their understanding of an issue. Among the symbolic uses presented to respondents, leaders most frequently reported using research to convince others or using research selectively to support a decision.

Networks matter for access to research. We asked leaders to select from 14 different sources where they obtained research relevant to their work. Leaders were most likely to access research through professional associations and professional conferences. Leaders were less likely to access research through individual researchers or from stand-alone websites, like the What Works Clearinghouse or the National Center for Education Statistics. Opportunities to interact with other professionals and/or researchers around research-based ideas seem to be quite important.

Across survey results, we see an appetite for research from educational leaders, particularly research that is timely and relevant to the district context. There are a range of different activities where research can be brought to bear within the flow of district work. Access to useful research seems to be a social phenomenon.

If this is the state of affairs for educational leaders, we see a promising role for partnerships between researchers and practitioners. Research partnerships engage in joint research and development activities with practitioners. Rooted in districts’ identified needs, the research efforts may be seen as more usable and actionable. It may also be more credible to local practitioners and policymakers because it was done with their students and their local conditions. The research developed out of the partnership can fit the local needs, whether it be related to curriculum selection, design of professional development, or creation of new policies. The partnership may also provide a needed infrastructure to support the social side of research use, enabling research ideas to flow between trusted partners.

Caitlin Farrell is Director of the National Center of Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP). See here for more on NCRPP or here for additional survey findings.

#NNERPP16: Re-Cap of the NNERPP Annual Forum, August 3-5 in New Orleans


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!

If you’d like more information on NNERPP or how your partnership might join the Network, please contact Paula Arce-Trigatti, Director.