Lessons Learned

The breadth of our partnerships enables us to constantly learn new lessons about models and systems that inform our thinking and our work. Here are a few insights we’ve gleaned about effective design and implementation:

Point of Entry Matters – we’ve been engaged in a number of systems-level design initiatives – each from a different starting place. We don’t believe there is a “right” approach, but where you begin has meaningful impact on the direction of the effort.

Communicate Early and Often – this one speaks for itself, but could be amended to include: “but first be clear what you’re trying to communicate, to whom, against what communication objectives.” Many a wheel falleth off for lack of effective communication.

Role of Policy Environment – this can range from preventive (constrains innovation) to permissive (allows, but doesn’t support) or enabling (actively promotes, supports and rewards risk-taking) – in any case, it will influence the success of your systemic efforts, so best to plan proactively.

Be Precise With Language – people often use different words to mean the same things, or the same words to mean different things.  Slow down and try to be clear with one another to confirm shared understanding.  This will save you time in the long run.

Innovation Culture as Foundation  we all know change is scary, especially within risk-averse education systems. A focus on leadership is good, but insufficient; long-term success requires building and nurturing an organizational culture of innovation.

Power of Short-cycle Prototyping – rather than become overwhelmed by large, permanent changes to a system, start small to get started and learn quickly as you go.  This also takes some of the pressure off of the potential for failure.

Models Exist Within Systems systems drive scale; we must simultaneously invest in and support both.

“Measure Twice, Cut Once” – borrowing this old carpenter’s adage, it pays to be as thoughtful as possible in advance of implementation to identify and plan for potential pitfalls or other complications.

Build a Big Tent  if this work is perceived as exclusionary, it will be less successful. The goal should be as to cast a wide net and enable all interested to understand the work and participate based on their readiness.

Invest in Your Learning Agenda – it’s often important to invest up front in establishing an explicit learning agenda that names the testable hypotheses and enables process through which ongoing analysis an learning can inform the broader vision and steady management against it.

Match Resources With Rhetoric – finally, it is essential to maintain alignment between available resources – including financial support and the right expert supports – in ways that are appropriate to the scope of problem/challenge you seek to address.  Letting these get out of whack can quickly create new problems.

Keep Pushing – transformational change is not easy and there’s just no substitute for elbow grease!