New year, new goals? RPPs and planning for success


 

Happy new year, everyone! I hope the ushering in of 2017 went smoothly for you and brought with it much joy. As is typical during these exciting early days of a new year, many of us set out a list of resolutions, goals, or intentions to guide our actions for the coming year. (Given that it is already January 6, hopefully you haven’t fallen off the track just yet!). NNERPP is no exception, as I’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on

all of our accomplishments in our first full year of existence, and enthusiastically planning for the many projects we have in store for year 2 (stay tuned…).

This exercise is particularly useful for assessing the previous year’s activities to determine what degree of “success” has been accomplished; on the other hand, it can also help clarify where new goals should lie. Because NNERPP has four main objectives that guide its work, this is a relatively straightforward task. In the case of research-practice partnerships, however, how should we go about this opportunity? What activities should be assessed to gauge “success”? What types of goals are appropriate for a new year?

The question of “success” or how to measure “effectiveness” regarding RPPs has been raised in the literature recently, and we’ve seen it be an ongoing topic of conversation throughout 2016. While answers remain elusive, it is becoming increasingly important for partnerships to consider this aspect of their operations, as it directly affects the health of the organization. We explored this topic at the 2016 NNERPP Annual Forum back in August and talked about some of the challenges.

One of the key concerns that surfaced was noting the multiple objectives that guide the work of an RPP, given the different roles of those working within the partnership (i.e., researchers, practitioners, policymakers, postdocs, and so forth). For example, during our discussions, practitioners were more likely to suggest that positively impacting student outcomes should be a top priority for the RPP. The researcher group, though, shared that a top priority for them was ensuring that research was actually used to make decisions.

Should both objectives be considered in an overall schematic intended to measure RPP success? Perhaps, although both suffer from measurement challenges albeit for slightly different reasons. Impacting student outcomes, while a highly valuable and important goal for a partnership, can be difficult to connect to partnership work directly, given the large number of parameters at play influencing education policy in general (see here, for example). In terms of measuring research use in practice, research suggests that districts’ use of evidence is “complex and at times messy.” Liz Farley-Ripple, co-director of the IES-funded Center for Research Use in Education, further details four challenges to measuring the use of research evidence in practice.

In addition to measurement challenges, both of these objectives likely require a longer time frame in which to assess progress. So what might an RPP focus on in the meantime? In a survey administered to participants prior to the 2016 NNERPP Annual Forum respondents indicated that building trust and cultivating relationships were the most important factors for ensuring a productive partnership. These goals, while not specifically indicative of whether or not the RPP is itself successful, are imperative for “greasing the wheel,” so to speak. In the absence of efforts to build trust or relationships across the different roles of the partnership, the work itself will most likely be adversely affected and thus, larger objectives will not be met.

How should one go about improving trust and relationships, then? From our conversations with NNERPP members, we hear several mention the importance of opportunities for repeated interactions and further, the development of new systems or routines to engage multiple stakeholders. A shared respect for all partners is also key, as is the recognition of the varied expertise brought by all of those working in the partnership. We’d also like to share the following resource for those looking to refine their facilitation skills (a special thanks to Laura Wentworth of the Stanford-SFUSD Partnership for passing it along!): Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, by Sam Kaner.

We will continue to work together to develop measures of effectiveness going forward; in the meantime, we hope these will give you a starting point from which to launch your reflection of 2016’s RPP activities and your upcoming partnership goals for 2017. Onwards!

#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.