Building Researchers? Capacity to Partner with Practitioners to Conduct Relevant and Useful Research

January 6, 2015
8:30 ? 12:30

Dr. Julie Kochanek, American Institutes for ResearchDr. Carrie Scholz, American Institutes for Research


The learning objectives for early career scholars and advanced researchers participating in this Workshop are  

  • Develop a deeper understanding of the various types of research-practice partnerships, their common features and stages ;

  • Gain insights from the lessons learned from successful partnerships;

  • Understand the steps needed to develop and realize a research-practice partnership?s theory of action.

The presenters will use a combination of brief presentations and hands-on exercises to build the participants? capacity to partner with practitioners to conduct relevant research.


In an effort to bring more knowledge about ?what works? to educational practitioners and policymakers, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has made significant investments in developing and disseminating focused, rigorous research projects in order to increase the supply of and demand for this research in educational decision making (Honig & Coburn, 2007). These efforts built on decades of earlier work by the U.S. Department of Education. Despite this investment, practitioners and policymakers continue to make little use of research findings to drive state, district, school, and classroom decision making (Burkhardt & Schonfeld, 2003; Fusarelli, 2008; Lagemann, 2002). Increasingly, education researchers are voicing concern over the structural division between research and practice and are looking for new ways to integrate practitioners (including policymakers) into the research process (Bryk & Gomez, 2008; Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow, 2010; Burkhardt & Schoenfeld ,2003; Coburn & Stein, 2010; Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002).

Proponents of emerging models of collaborative research argue that involving practitioners in the research process has multiple benefits. First, including practitioners on a research team bridges the divide between research and practice, resulting in a greater likelihood that research findings will be applied to practice (Coburn & Stein, 2010; Roderick, Easton, & Sebring, 2009). Second, practitioner involvement in research has been suggested as a way to build capacity to incorporate systematic inquiry into regular decision-making processes within practitioner communities (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010; Roderick, Easton, & Sebring, 2009). Finally, collaborative research may also inform the research process and education research itself by bringing together experts from diverse perspectives to engage in problem-solving work so that research and practice become part of an interactive cycle supporting improvement (Bryk & Gomez, 2008; Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow, 2010).

Session Format and Content

This session will be divided into three specific segments: Examination of Collaborative Research Models, Lessons Learned from Successful Research-Practice Partnerships, and a Road Map for Realizing Your Theory of Action. During each segment, participants will be invited to ask questions, share reflective comments, and participate in hands-on exercises. Each segment is described below. For the session agenda and the presenters resumes, see Appendixes A and B.

Examining Collaborative Research Models
During the first segment of the session, the presenters will walk the participants through examples of research-practice partnerships, theoretical typologies used to categorize the partnerships, and common features of and stages experienced by many research-practice partnerships. Then the participants will have an opportunity to apply the content.

Group Exercise #1: The goal of this exercise is for participants to apply takeaways from the presentation when drafting their own theory of action relevant to their own context and experiences in research with stakeholders. A draft template for the participants will be provided. [A research-practice partnership scenario will be provided for those without a relevant context].

Lessons Learned from Successful Research-Practice Partnerships
As part of the second segment of the session, the presenters will highlight four lessons learned from successful research-practice partnerships. Following the brief presentation, the participants will participate in a second exercise.

Group Exercise #2: Goal of the exercise is to help participants develop activities and strategies that apply the lessons learned to new situations.  The presenters will likely provide scenarios that ask participants to think through next steps, reflect on their own context, discuss in small groups and present to whole group.

Road Map for Realizing Your Theory of Action
The final segment of the session will provide an outline of the critical steps for researchers to consider when they decide to implement their theories of action for the research-practice partnerships. This portion of the session provides strategies and tools for inviting fellow researchers and practitioners to engage in a research-practice partnership, negotiating a long-term research agenda, creating advisory groups, defining roles and responsibilities, and planning for how to engage with the practitioners, communicating research results, and measuring impact.  Following this presentation, the participants will be divided into three groups to participate in the final exercise. One instructor will join each group.
Group Exercise #3: The goal of the Wise Crowds activity is for the presenters to seek feedback from the participants. Specifically, the presenters will sit with their backs to the small groups and ask them to provide feedback on the following questions:
What is the viability of the tools in the participants? contexts?
What steps or tools are missing?
This segment will conclude with the participants identifying the key takeaways from the session.

Invited Participation

Ideally, 35-40 early career scholars and advanced researchers will attend this session.  Participants should have a general understanding of the purpose of research-practice partnerships and the desire to either establish a research-practice partnership or strengthen an existing research-practice partnership.


Bryk, A. S. & Gomez, L. M. (2008). Ruminations on reinventing an R&D capacity for
    educational improvement. In F.M. Hess (Eds.), The Future of educational
    Entrepreneurship: Possibilities of School Reform (181-206). Cambridge, MA: Harvard
    Education Press.

Bryk A. S., Gomez L. M., & Grunow A. (2010). Getting ideas into action: Building networked
improvement communities in education. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford, CA.

Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S. & Easton, J.Q. (2010). Organizing
    schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Burkhardt, H. & Schoenfeld, A.H. (2003). Improving educational research: Toward a more
    useful, more Influential, and better-funded enterprise.? Educational Researcher

Coburn, C., E. & Stein, M. K. (Eds.). (2010). Research and Practice in Education: Building
    Alliances, Bridging the Divide. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Fusarelli, L. (2008). Flying (partially) blind: School leaders? use of research in decision-making.  Phi Delta Kappan 89(5),365?368.

Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R. & Stigler, J.W. (2002). A knowledge base for the teaching
    profession: What would it look like and how can we get one?? Educational
    Researcher 31(5): 3-15.

Honig, M. I. & Coburn, C. E. (2008). Evidence-based decision making in school district central offices: Toward a research agenda. Educational Policy, 22(4), 578-608.

Lagemann, E. 2002.Usable knowledge in education research. New York: Spencer Foundation.

Roderick, M., Easton, J., & Sebring, P. 2009. The Consortium on Chicago School Research: A
    New Model for the Role of Research in Urban School Reform. Chicago: CCSR.

Appendix A - Session Agenda