Establishing and Sustaining Networked Improvement Communities

Networked improvement communities are a relatively new type of collaborative research partnership between researchers and educators. With facilitation from researchers, educators identify problems of practice, the factors that drive the problems, and promising solutions. They then engage in iterative cycles of designing, implementing, testing, and redesigning solutions, while learning from variation across the settings in the networked improvement community. A new report from REL Midwest, Establishing and Sustaining Networked Improvement Communities, shares lessons learned from working with educators in Michigan and Minnesota to establish and sustain networked improvement communities, and offers guidance to researchers and educators as they form networked improvement communities in different contexts.

A networked improvement community (NIC) is a type of collaborative research partnership that uses principles of improvement science within networks to learn from variation across contexts. REL Midwest worked with educators at the school, district, intermediate school district, and state levels to establish the Michigan Focus NIC, with the goal of reducing disparities in student achievement within schools, the Minnesota Statewide System of Support NIC. This NIC aimed to improve the supports that the Minnesota Department of Education provides to its six Regional Centers of Excellence, which implement school improvement strategies in the schools in the state with the lowest performance and largest achievement gaps.

Although there is practical guidance for how NICs should structure their work, few published accounts describe the process of forming a NIC. Through its experience working with educators to form two NICs, REL Midwest learned that it is important to:

  • build a cohesive team with members representing different types of expertise;
  • reduce uncertainty by clarifying what participation would entail;
  • build engagement by aligning work with ongoing efforts;
  • use activities that are grounded in daily practice to narrow the problem of practice to one that is high leverage and actionable; and
  • embed capacity building into NICs to build additional expertise for using continuous improvement research to address problems of practice.

To access the report, see: