There are several different structural arrangements that research-practice partnerships (RPPs) can take; these have evolved (and will likely continue to evolve) over time. To better reflect the current state of the field, we will focus on identifying the multiple facets of RPPs that can give rise to their differences.

Structure: As presented in the definition of RPPs, a key feature is the joint collaboration between agencies that primarily administer education (such as state education agencies, local education agencies, or schools) and agencies that primarily research education (such as public or private universities, research institutions, or community groups that specialize in research). Different combinations of these various agencies can produce a variety of structural arrangements across RPPs. This in turn will affect the number and type of students impacted by RPP work, the level at which decision making is impacted, and the extent to which other stakeholders are involved directly with the work.

Interactions: The intensity and types of interaction occuring between practitioners and researchers within the context of the partnership can vary greatly and often depends on the research approaches employed. For example, partnerships that make use of design-based research often work much more closely with practitioners on various aspects of the research than those working with quasi-experimental methods.

Output: The nature and scope of the research questions investigated by a partnership are typically related to the disciplinary training of those leading the RPP. This can lead to differences across RPPs, in terms of output. For example, some partnerships may be more focused on implementation, and thus, tool kits and reports geared towards practitioners may be more common. On the other hand, some may focus more on informing policy; technical papers or policy briefs may be their goal.

In their 2013 white paper, Coburn, Penuel, and Geil initially identified three different district-level partnership arrangements: research alliances, design-based partnerships, and networked improvement communities. We encourage the reader to explore the paper as well as the case studies (available below) to learn more about these definitions.


“Research-Practice Partnerships for Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices in Child Welfare and Child Mental Health”

Authors: Lawrence A. Palinkas, Cherry Short, and Marleen Wong

Year: 2016

This white paper prepared for the William T. Grant Foundation is about types of parnerships in the health field. It describes three models of research-practice-policy partnerships in child welfare and child mental health.

“Examining REL Alliance Structures: Affordances and Challenges”

Year: 2014

These webinar slides discuss the different structures of three actual partnerships: REL NEI’s Early Childhood Education Research Alliance, REL SW’s Oklahoma Rural Schools Research Alliance, and REL West’s Silicon Valley Research Alliance.

“Design-Based Implementation Research in Schools: Benefits & Challenges”

Author: Hilda Borko

Year: 2015

This AACTE (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education) presentation from Stanford University’s Center to Support Excellence in Teaching reviews the benefits and the challenges of a DBIR approach within partnerships.

“Advice for Developing a Research Design that Employs Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR)”

Author: Bill Penuel

This brief from the Research + Practice Collaboratory provides guidance for developing a research plan using the DBIR approach.





RPP Case Studies

“Case Study I: The John W. Gardner Center and Redwood City 2020”

Authors: Cynthia E. Coburn, William R. Penuel, and Kimberly E. Geil

Year: 2013

This case study describes the John W. Gardner Center and Redwood City 2020 partnership, which is an example of a Research Alliance research-practice partnership.

“Case Study II: Research Alliance for New York City Schools”

Authors: Cynthia E. Coburn, William R. Penuel, and Kimberly E. Geil

Year: 2013

This case study describes The Research Alliance for New York City Schools, which is an example of the Research Alliance type of research-practice partnership.

“Case Study III: The University of Washington and Bellevue School District Partnership”

Authors: Cynthia E. Coburn, William R. Penuel, and Kimberly E. Geil

Year: 2013

This case study describes the University of Washington and Bellevue School District Partnership, which is an example of a Design-Based Research Partnership.

“Case Study IV: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Networked Improvement Communities (NICs)”

Authors: Cynthia E. Coburn, William R. Penuel, and Kimberly E. Geil

Year: 2013

This case study describes the Networked Improvement Communities (NICs) initiated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, particularly the Building a Teacher Effectiveness Network (BTEN).

“Theories and Research Methodologies for Design-Based Implementation Research: Examples From Four Cases”

Authors: Jennifer Lin Russell, Kara Jackson, Andrew E. Krumm, and Kenneth A. Frank

Year: 2013

This chapter from the National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook highlights a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives and tools relevant for DBIR and reviews four examples of projects that reflect DBIR principles.

“Data Use and Inquiry in Research-Practice Partnerships: Four Case Examples”

Authors: Manuelito Biag, Kendra C. Fehrer, Monika Sanchez, Laurel Sipes, and Amy R. Gerstein

Year: 2016

This report by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities includes four examples of succesful research-practice partnerships.