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Sharing, connecting, learning in support of institutional transformation.

Several clusters of Powered by Publics institutions have used improvement science to understand the root causes of educational inequities, identify a specific improvement aim, and test ideas for change. The Improvement Science Toolkit, developed in partnership with WestEd, consists of a series of scaffolded resources that can be used in sequential order to guide institutions through an improvement journey.

What is Improvement Science?

The simplest way to define improvement science is as a highly practical form of rigorous inquiry. Desire for the use of improvement science begins with a dissatisfaction with the status quo and a recognition that existent outcomes are either not desirable or just not good enough. Improvement science addresses the ways that work systems are designed with the recognition that these systems directly shape how individuals carry out their responsibilities. It focuses on the specific tasks people do, the processes and tools they use and how prevailing policies, organizational structures, and norms affect this. Applying improvement science would direct greater attention to how better to design and fit together the many elements that shape the way organizations work.

Improvement science entails getting down into the micro details as to how any proposed set of changes is actually supposed to improve outcomes. At the heart is an approach of rapid tests of change to guide the development, revision and continued fine-tuning of new tools, processes, work roles, and relationships. The approach is explicitly designed to accelerate learning by doing. As iterative cycles of change proceed, previously invisible problems often emerge, and improvement activities may need to tack off in some new directions. The objective here is quite different from the traditional pilot program that seeks to offer a proof of concept. Improvement research, in contrast, is a focused learning journey. The overall goal is to develop the necessary know-how for a change idea ultimately to spread faster and more effectively.

Participants are constantly asking three core improvement questions:

  • What is the specific problem I am now trying to solve?
  • What change might I introduce and why?
  • How will I know whether the change is actually an improvement?

How to Use this Toolkit

We recommend using these resources in sequential order to support your institution's improvement journey from start to finish. However, if you are already using improvement science, some individual resources may be helpful based on where you are in the process.

1. Introduction to Improvement Science

2. Team Formation

3. System Analysis

4. Develop Aim Statement

5. Develop and Test Change Ideas

6. Learning Reflection and Planning

Special thanks to Christine Han at WestEd for authoring or customizing these resources for APLU members, and to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their support.

Tags: Toolkit, continuous improvement, improvement science, Analysis, change management, Template

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