Trust in Research Practice Partnerships

CSforALL
CSforALL
Mar 29 · 5 min read

By Stephanie Wortel-London, Research Associate CSforALL

In this post, we’re happy to present the first in an ongoing series of theme studies that have been generated by our research associates, including Todd Lash and Stephanie Wortel-London, through ongoing data collection with the NSF-funded RPPforCS projects from across the country. An RPP, or Research-Practice Partnership, is a way of conducting research that creates an active collaboration between researchers and K-12 practitioners at each stage of the research project (Coburn, Penuel, & Geil, 2013). In an RPP, the practitioners are the co-designers of the research, which allows researchers to center their work on the most relevant, recent problems of practice, and allows practitioners to translate research outcomes directly into classroom practice. RPP can be incredibly helpful in the booming field of computer science education research because such partnerships keep current problems of classroom practice front and center for the research community.

Say something about the genesis of the RPPforCS idea? Who leads it, who’s in it? Why is there a project focused on other RPP projects? What are the goals?

SageFox Consulting Group and CSforALL are engaged in a partnership to study trends and macro-level research effects of the NSF-funded RPP projects studying CS education around the country. We are developing a series of theme studies drawn from the experiences of these funded projects, which could be helpful to practitioners looking to start a partnership, and also to researchers interested in a novel approach. For our first theme study, we examine the importance of building trust and fostering relationships in the first cohort of RPPforCS projects.

Dr. Debra Nakama presents on the CSP4Hawaii RPP at the 2018 Knowledge Forum at The University of Texas at El Paso

Trust is a valuable (and tricky to define) currency when engaging in any kind of education research! It’s one of five dimensions of a healthy RPP and it can be a tricky element to build and strengthen. In the spirit of quick, readable internet things, here are a few tips that our community has surfaced to overcome barriers to establishing trust!

Where you meet and what you eat!

  1. Location has power — when setting up meetings between practitioners, researchers, and other key staff, consider changing up the meeting location. Always setting meetings in the same place (virtually, or on a college campus, or in a school district building) might subliminally send a message about who holds the power or priority in the partnership. Further, the people or set of people who have deciding power over where the meetings take place matters. Rotating your meeting place over the course of a project can create an equitable routine.
  2. The RPP that plays together stays together! Some of our groups reported regularly meeting for social exchange (drinks, tapas, potluck) outside of their grant management meetings. Just schedule some! The more team members know each other outside of the project, the more they trust each other as professionals and collaborators.

Observe the diverse perspectives and strengths on your team!

  1. The Oceans 8 team did not assemble a jewel heist crew of 8 Debbie Oceans. The unique strengths and perspectives that each team member brings may offer more than you would assume. Building trust in an RPP means taking time to identify the strengths and expertise of each imember and subgroup. Your partners will be good at self-identifying a great number of their strengths, and when they know that you are both acknowledging AND leveraging those strengths toward the success of your project, that is powerful trust fuel. Further, existing team members may be able to identify or nominate additional contributors that bring needed strengths and skills missing on the team.
  2. Embrace cultural differences! Knowing at the outset that your partners are coming from a different organizational culture (whether in the K-12 space or research space), will go a long way toward not trying to impose a single organization’s culture across an entire project. By taking the time to get to know your partner’s organizational values, norms, and practices through a clear brainstorming conversation in which team members lay these out for the larger group, your entire RPP team can co-generate a unique melding of cultures without perpetuating primary or secondary status.

The Conservation of Resources Theory

  1. Every professional has seasonal cycles of busy crunch time and more relaxed working time, and every team member in an RPP will have a different set of job demands and capacities while undertaking this collaborative project. An RPP that fosters trust deliberately maintains awareness of each member’s load and work scope, and avoids overwhelming any given team member. This could be accomplished by asking main team members to draw out the timeline of a professional year and indicate the months and seasons where they are especially crunched and otherwise more available to contribute to the project. Looking at the overlapping calendars of all team members can facilitate more fair work distribution. The RPPs with the highest level of trust ensure that project responsibilities are aligned with each individual’s capacity, interests, and expertise.
A group of education professionals at a BOCES in NYS discusses their values in CS Education as part of an RPP project.

With a generous fund of trust to keep the wheels of a partnership greased and consciously cultivated relationships, incredibly collaborative research can be accomplished to improve CS Education!

Disclaimer: these recommendations may not even be “one size fits most” since there are so many diverse RPPs in the project cohort.

Read more in our Theme Study on the CSforALL website!

Coburn, C. E., Penuel, W. R., & Geil, K. E. (2013). Practice Partnerships: A Strategy for Leveraging Research for Educational Improvement in School Districts. William T. Grant Foundation.


Stephanie has worked for more than a decade to reinforce the sharing of knowledge and strengthen connections between K-12 STEM education and higher ed STEM research. Prior to joining CSforALL, she developed and led enrichment and mentoring programs serving under-represented youth through in-person and virtual programming at the New York Academy of Sciences. She has taught in Germany, Malaysia, China, and across the United States, and her career in science education began as an Earth Science teacher in a South Bronx public school. She was also a curriculum writer and educator at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research interests include the development of science identity in groups historically under-represented in STEM through informal learning experiences. She is preparing to defend her PhD dissertation in Science Education Research at Stony Brook University’s Institute for STEM Education, and has served as an Adjunct Professor for the Space Systems course in the AMNH Master of Arts in Teaching Residency graduate program. She also serves on the Associate Board of the Red Hook Initiative and on the board of the 1000 Steps Fellows.

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CSforALL Stories

Thoughts & conversations on the movement to bring rigorous, inclusive and sustainable computer science to all US students.