Improvement Science

There is growing interest in the ability of improvement science to spur innovation and address complex problems of practice. Improvement science can be traced to efforts to improve industrial manufacturing practice, but the process of improving practice through systematic inquiry has garnered interest in other disciplines as well, including education. Educators have long engaged in strategies to improve practice, but because of their singular focus on their own practice, their findings are seldom shared beyond their school, district, or state. As a result, promising practices often are not implemented in new contexts or are implemented on a large scale without the necessary capacity to do so and without careful attention to the challenges of implementation. An example that is derived from this article, a study of the failure of a large-scale initiative funded by the Gates Foundation to convert large high schools into smaller, more personalized learning settings recommends “learning by doing” on a small scale before moving to large-scale implementation.

In education, improvement science is often implemented through collaborative research partnerships in which researchers and practitioners work together to systematically test and refine theories of change in real-world settings. Networked Improvement Communities are one such partnership.

Although there is practical guidance for how networked improvement communities should structure this work, few published accounts describe the process of forming a networked improvement community. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching pro- vides guidance for researchers and educators who intend to form networked improvement communities. Examples used in the guidance include forming networked improvement communities around increasing community college graduation rates and improving support for novice teachers. However, the guidance focuses on conducting continuous improvement research within the networked improvement community after it has been established rather than on establishing a networked improvement community (Russell et al., in press). The literature addressing the social aspects of establishing a networked improvement community is also limited, including exploring the dynamics of the participants and how they negotiate their roles and responsibilities. Although connections can be made to how other collaborative partnerships, such as communities of practice or professional learning communities, are established, there is a lack of information about the process of leading, organizing, and operating networked improvement communities.

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