Friday, 8 December 2017

The School Research Lead : How to stop doing what doesn't work

Tuesday 5 December  saw a strange alignment between the real-world and Twitter.  That night saw a Coalition for Evidence-Based Education discuss the notion of strategic abandonment (Thank you @DrCarolineCreaby).  Whilst later in the evening#DebatED  discussed 'whether an interest in education research is more about identifying what doesn't work as suggesting what will'.  This was then following up on Thursday with a #UKEdResChat focussing on 'how do we define 'what works' in educational research? Should we also be focussing on what doesn't work?"

So with that in mind it seems sensible to examine a process for disengaging from strategies and interventions which appear not to be working.   (McGrath, 2011) has identified a disciplined process for getting out of projects and which includes these steps
  1. Decide in advance on periodic checkpoints for determining whether to continue or not
  2. Evaluate the project’s upside against the current estimated costs of continuing.  If it no longer appears that the project will deliver the returns anticipated at the outset, it may be time to stop 
  3. Compare the project with other candidate projects that need resources.  If this one looks less attractive than they do, it may be time to stop? 
  4. Assess whether the project teams may be falling prey to escalations pressures (all we be ok as long as we make the project bigger) 
  5. Involve an objective, informed outsider in the decisions about whether to continue, instead of leaving it up to the project team members
  6. If the decision is made to stop, spell out the reasons clearly
  7. Think though how capabilities and assets developed during the course of the projects might be recouped
  8. Identify all who will be affected by the project’s terminations; draw up a plan to address disappointments or 'damage' they might suffer
  9. Use a symbolic event – a wake, a play, a memorial – to give people closure
  10.  Make sure that that the people involved get a new, equally interesting opportunity p83

 Given what we know about educational research and interventions, it is impossible to avoid things that do not work.  As such the choice is simple - continue with practices and interventions that do not work or release the resources for use in some area where they might.  However, in doing so, it is important to maximise what can be learnt from failure - and which may lead to success next time.


McGrath, R. (2011). Failing by Design. Harvard Business Review (April, 2011), 77-83.


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