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Many of you have been working with your clusters to identify common problems that impact an institution's ability to improve student outcomes. And the common question that has emerged is, what do we do next??

A key question at this point in the journey is how is the system currently holding this problem in place? The work at this stage is to shine a light on the parts of the process that are intentionally or unintentionally allowing this problem to persist. As a system becomes more complex, it becomes more challenging to actually see what leads to a problem.

One improvement tool that helps to begin shedding light on where this problem occurs is to create a fishbone diagram. A fishbone diagram is a way to draw upon the knowledge and experiences of the people who work within the system to identify the root causes of the problem at hand.

Cluster 4 has been working to create this diagram to begin surfacing the root causes of the variation in course passage rates. The problem that the cluster identified was that instruction at the institutions is highly variable, which leads to highly variable student experiences, which in turn impacts students' ability to pass courses.

Over the course of 2 calls, and with some work done in between by institutions who weren't able to join the calls, Cluster 4 produced this diagram.

To set the frame for this activity, we created a Miro board with some prompts to help everyone begin jotting down their ideas for what is causing this problem to persist. We drew upon a prior conversation to name the main categories of causes (eg: "approach to faculty development is fragmented", "lack of culture in using data"). From there, we directed participants to use the 5 why's protocol to keep digging deeper. (For a simple primer on the 5 why's protocol, click here.) It's important to keep in mind that the fishbone diagram is an entry point into a deeper investigation about why the people at the table believe this problem exists and persists; it isn't a solution to the problem, nor should it be considered to be fact. It helps direct the team to the aspects of the system that should be examined and better understood.

Have questions about how to start a fishbone diagram with your cluster? Post a question / comment below! You can also talk to Alcione who has gone through this process with Cluster 4 or JC & Denise who are getting ready to do this with Cluster 13!

Tags: investigating the system

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For Cluster 13's January Meeting on 1/27, Denise and I will begin our fishbone activity with the group. In our December meeting, we struggled to get our cluster to narrow the scope of a problem statement. After the meeting,  we decided to go with a statement that encompassed the components that our discussion circled around - "Data is not being used effectively for student success." I'll post another update after we have the meeting, but please feel free to reach out in the meantime!

JC Chadwick
Last edited by Gregory Thornton
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