Friday, 18 May 2018

The school research champion and the evidence-rich school

Teachers, middle and senior leaders interested in bringing about greater use of evidence within their schools are exposed to a wide-range of terminology.  As such,  teachers and school leaders interested in evidence have to be able to distinguish, or at least be aware of the possible differences between: research-based practice; research-informed; evidence-based practice; and, evidence-informed practice.  And now  there a ‘new-kid on the block’ – evidence-rich/enriched practice.  So in this post I am going to look at:  what evidence-rich/enriched practice could mean; research into evidence-enriched practice looks like in a health-care setting; and, consider the implications of preceding discussion for those in interested in the use of evidence within schools. 

Evidence-enriched practice

Stoll (2017) describes evidence enriched practice as involving teachers and school leaders using external research evidence; collecting and analysing data; and, engaging in collaborative enquiry/research and development.  With teachers and school leaders being very much in the driving seat in the use of evidence.

Reflecting on this definition a number of issues need to be considered.

First, existing definitions of evidence-based practice, such as, Barends, Rousseau, et al. (2014), already make great play of different sources of evidence, be it research evidence, organisational data, stake-holder views and practitioner expertise, and if done properly, will be evidence-rich.

Second, definitions of evidence-based medicine, such as Sackett, Rosenberg, et al. (1996) emphasise the role of patients in making decisions.  Indeed, evidence-based medicine is about patients and clinicians making informed decisions about patient care, which are informed by the patients values and preferences.  Stoll’s definition is largely silent on the role of pupils and stakeholders in the decision-making process.

Third, the use of the ‘driving seat’ metaphor is quite interesting, in the driving seat of what: an evidence-informed pedal-powered go-kart or an evidence-based F1 racing car. 

Four, evidence-based practice is about making decisions on the basis of the best available evidence, which for me, is not the same as engaging in collaborative research and development.  R&D may subsequently be used in future evidence-based decisions, but it is a separate process. 

Five, despite the above criticism of Stoll’s notion of evidence-enriched practice, I welcome the emphasis on the collaborative nature of evidence-based practice, which has particular implications for school leadership: see Jones (2018 Forthcoming).

Evidence-enriched practice: lessons from health and social care sector

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I often argue that there is much to learn from medicine and health-care about evidence-based practice.  Accordingly, it seems sensible to see what research has been published in the medicine and health-care sectors on evidence-enriched practice.  To do this I conducted a search on Google Scholar using the term ‘evidence-enriched practice’ I came across this paper : Developing Evidence Enriched Practice in Health and Social Care with Older People Andrews, Gabbay, et al. (2015).  This is a fascinating paper, which I will explore in more detail in future posts, however for the purposes of this blog I’m just going to highlight the various elements and sub-elements of evidence-enriched practice which were woven and interwoven into the project.

Element 1: Valuing and using a range of evidence

  • research evidence
  • practitioner knowledge and experiences
  • the voice of older people and carers
  • organisational knowledge (policy imperatives, embedded systems and resources).

Element 2: Securing senior management buy-in and valuing and empowering participants

  • Appreciation and respect: valuing people and focusing on their strengths and the things that matter to them
  • Honesty: supporting people to ‘say it as it is’
  • Permission: encouraging people to be creatively humane, not just procedurally compliant
  • Mutual trust: developed through respectful conversations
  • Celebration: recognising and building on success, including the importance of ‘ordinary’, often little, things

Element 3: Capturing and presenting relevant evidence in accessible and engaging formats

  • Stories, quotes, pictures, music and poetry
  • Good practice from elsewhere
  • Normative frameworks
  • Provocative statements

Element 4: Facilitating the exploration and purposeful use of evidence

  • A simple approach to support dialogic learning using evidence as the stimulus
  • Working as a community of practice
  • Facilitating serendipity and weaving in evidence as the project developed

Element 5: Recognising and addressing national and local organisational circumstances and obstacles

  • National social policy and financial investment in social care services
  • National regulatory requirements and local policies and procedures
  • Managing relational risk
  • Managing risks to physical safety
  • Developing and using recording that enhances the provision of good care and support and quality assurance
  • Local organisational management culture
  • The problem of feeling ‘left out’

What should be immediately obvious is that in comparison to Stoll (2017) this is a far more comprehensive framework with which to describe an evidence-enriched environment.  In particular, it emphasises the role of senior leadership in creating the environment in which an evidence-enriched practice can flourish.  It also recognises the need to address national and local circumstances, and not to see them as a hindrance but as something which is an integral part of the ‘evidence environment’.  Finally, the role of older people and carers is fully acknowledged.  

What are the implications for those interested in the creation of evidence-enriched practice with schools?

First, education does not need to reinvent the ‘evidence-enriched  wheel’ as there is much to learn from other sectors.  That does not mean it will not have to be adapted but it does mean we can ‘stand on the shoulders of others.’

Second, school leaders who think they will automatically build an evidence-enriched school culture by appointing a school research lead/champion need to think again.  School leaders need to give real consideration as to whether the leadership and management culture and style of the school is consistent with the conditions necessary to create an evidence-enriched environment.  If it isn’t but want to do something about it, the starting point is your own conduct as a school leader. If you are not interested in deeply reflecting upon your own leadership practice, then you may be better off not trying to become evidence-enriched.

Third, ‘evidence-enriched’ teachers are part of a community of practice.  It’s not about individual teachers conducting teacher-led randomised controlled trials – it’s about deep and profound conversations with colleagues, pupils, parents and other stakeholders based upon a culture or mutual respect.

Fourth, currently much of the research into evidence-informed practice focuses on how teachers and school leaders use research-evidence.  This is a far too narrow a focus and greater emphasis should be place on investigating how teachers and school leaders go about aggregating multiple sources of evidence and incorporating that evidence into the decision-making process. 

Fifth, knowledge brokers – be it research schools or  the individual school research champion  - need to consider different ways knowledge can be shared.  Newsletters are a very basic and safe way of sharing information – though probably not that effective - and we need to find far more of communicating ideas in accessible and interesting formats.

And finally

If you are interested in finding out more about what evidence-rich and evidence-enriched may look like in practice, the RSA will later this year be publishing a report Learning About Culture  which looks at what works in cultural learning, and how  to support schools and cultural organisations to use evidence from their own work and elsewhere to continuously improve their practice. Indeed, one of the intended key outcomes of the work is something the RSA describes as evidence-rich practice. 


Andrews, N., Gabbay, J., Le May, A., Miller, E., O'Neill, M. and Petch, A. (2015). Developing Evidence Enriched Practice in Health and Social Care with Older People.
Barends, E., Rousseau, D. and Briner, R. (2014). Evidence-Based Management : The Basic Principles. Amsterdam. Center for Evidence-Based Management
Bath, N. (2018). Exploring What It Means to Be ‘Evidence-Rich’ in Practice. IOE London Blog.
Jones, G. (2018 Forthcoming). Evidence-Based School Leadership: A Practical Guide. London. SAGE Publishing.
Sackett, D., Rosenberg, W., Gray, J., Haynes, R. and Richardson, W. (1996). Evidence Based Medicine: What It Is and What It Isn't. Bmj. 312. 7023. 71-72.
Stoll, L. (2017). Five Challenges in Moving Towards Evidence-Informed Practice. Impact. Interim issue. Interim issue.
Straus, S., Glasziou, P., Richardson, S. and Haynes, B. (2011). Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach It. (Fourth Edition). Edinburgh. Churchill Livingstone: Elsevier.

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