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!