What makes a research alliance successful? How can researchers and practitioners work together to make an impact? To explore those questions, Education Northwest hosted the first REL Northwest Research Alliance Forum at our headquarters in Portland, Oregon, on April 25, 2013. The event brought together members from research alliances throughout our five-state region, staff members from eight different regional education laboratories across the country, and national thought leaders to impart knowledge and insights into the ways research alliances can promote the use of evidence by local and state practitioners and policymakers.
During the daylong event, alliance members shared their challenges and successes working in three critical regional priority areas: school improvement, educational equity, and college and career readiness. In an afternoon general session, the 70 participants came together for a World Café (a hosted, interactive group dialogue) on common research alliance barriers such as competing timelines, varying agendas, and maintaining “mutualism” in the work.
Though many ideas were discussed throughout the day, a recurring theme was the importance of relationships among researchers and practitioners. Alliances that shared success stories often had pre-existing relationships with their members and a strong sense of collaboration and shared interests. As Greg Alexander of the Idaho State Department of Education put it in a panel on school improvement, “There are plenty of roles for researchers to play [in school improvement work], but there needs to be trust.”
Another topic of conversation among attendees was the purpose behind research-practice partnerships and how the collaboration between researchers and practitioners can yield more relevant and useful study findings.
“It’s not just research because it’s interesting,” Ruth Neild, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, said of the REL Northwest research-practice partnerships. “It’s research that’s driven by a need.”
In addition to the individual research alliance sessions and World Café, participants attended general sessions on building bridges between research and practice and developing and using college readiness indicators. At the end of the day, the forum attendees reported feeling energized by the event and inspired to take what they’d learned back to their alliance members.
“Research will help us with the ‘what’,” said Laura Baker, Assistant Director of Professional Development for the Austin (TX) Independent School District. “Alliance work can help us with the ‘how’ of getting things done.”