What should partners keep in mind when developing a research agenda?
Whether a research agenda emerges formally or more organically, there are a few principles that help guide its development:
Root the research agenda in the real-world priorities and challenges that districts face. The research that RPPs take on must be useful for solving practical problems. These problems should be informed by multiple stakeholders’ perspectives. They may be wide-ranging, and could include classroom practices, leadership decisions, or district-wide policy changes.
Collaborate from the beginning and build in ongoing communication throughout your projects. Practitioners and researchers are co-designers of a research agenda. An iterative, collaborative approach continues as specific projects are developed and launched. All parties’ ongoing ownership of the agenda is essential if research is to matter.
Develop an agenda that is likely to be used. There is often a disconnect between research and a district’s capacity to use it. To avoid this disconnect, consider a diversified portfolio of projects and anticipate the supports necessary to ensure the uses of the research.
How do you stay on target once a research agenda has been established?
RPPs can do several things to ensure that the partnership maintains its focus over time. If they have MOUs, partners can use them to clarify their key agreements and principles as they begin projects. Later on, regular check-ins help partners monitor whether they are staying on course.
Additionally, partners should regularly revisit the research agenda itself. A research agenda provides a useful overview of the RPP’s work. But they are only useful if they are sufficiently current to inform ongoing discussions about what projects to pursue and which lines of work to develop. Many experienced RPPs regularly review the research during joint partner meetings.
How often do you revisit the joint agenda?
Conversations about joint agendas are ongoing processes rather than one-time events. One common concern to address up front are districts’ apprehensions about how findings will be used and presented. Thereafter, it is important to discuss (and revisit) how the joint agenda will take shape, and how it will be carried out and communicated to various stakeholders. Critical points at which to check in include during the data gathering process and before findings are publicly presented.
Turnover within most partnerships requires revisiting the agenda frequently. A few years in, it is possible to be working with a brand-new team, creating a need for ongoing negotiation of the agenda. Paul Cobb, from the MIST Partnership, finds it helpful to arrange formal times then the joint agenda is discussed. “For us, it is built into our feedback sessions – which we conduct twice a year. It allows us to not just go on with the same agenda from year to year. When we have those meetings, it also gives us an opportunity to negotiate the larger agenda.” Cobb suggests that RPPs must be opportunistic and flexible, balancing their work between their expertise and what the district is trying to do in a given school year.
What kinds of portfolios emerge from the research agenda?
Research agendas need to be concrete enough to provide guidance for several years, but sufficiently responsive to meet new challenges.
To strike this balance, some RPPs maintain diversified portfolios of short- and long-term projects. Quick turnaround work serves the fast-moving needs of districts and promotes a sense of forward movement. That work is complemented by longer term projects focused on the districts’ persistent challenges.