Saturday, 7 October 2017

Leading the research and evidence based school : Are you ready?

When introducing evidence-based practice into your school a major challenge you will face is having to diagnose your school’s readiness to both engage with and implement research and other evidence. One way of helping you addressing this challenge is to use the Promoting  Action on Research Implementation in Health Services (PARiHS) framework (Kitson, Harvey, & McCormack, 1998) and which provides a useful conceptual and pragmatic heuristic to to help you think about the implementation of research within your school. The PARiHS framework describes the successful implementation of research into practice as being a function of the interaction of three core elements—the quality and type of the evidence, the context, setting or environment into which the research used, and the approaches and techniques of facilitation.

Evidence – this consists or four elements: academic/scientific research, practitioner expertise, school/organisational data and the views of stakeholders

Context – is the environment in which the proposed change – either an evidence-informed intervention or the adoption of evidence-based school leadership – is being implemented. As such, it can be divided into three sub-elements; the prevailing culture; school leadership; and the school’s approach to accountability and development.

Facilitation – this is where one or more persons – for example, senior leaders, school research leads and champions - makes things easier for others and this includes; the characteristics of facilitators; their role; style and skills. In this context, the facilitator’s role is help people understand the change required and what’s needed to be done to bring it about

Now each of these elements and sub-elements is placed on a low to high continuum, with (Kitson et al., 1998)(Kitson et al., 1998) stating

‘…that for the implementation of research into practice to be successful there needs to be a clear understanding of the nature of the evidence being used, the quality of context in terms of its ability to cope with change and type of facilitation needed to ensure a successful change process’ (p152)

For each of these three elements a range of conditions may exist which indicate the likelihood of the successful implementation of research and evidence-based practices. These conditions are illustrated in Figure 1

Figure 1 Conditions for evidence, context and facilitation

Likelihood of success of implementing change



Systematic reviews
Randomised controlled trials

Practitioner expertise
Expert opinion divided
Several ‘camps’

High level of consensus
Consistency of view of value of evidence

Organisational date
Little detailed data available
Data comes from a restricted number of sources.

High level of detailed quantitative data available  
Data available from multiple sources

Stakeholder views
Stakeholders not involved

Partnerships with full range of stakeholders

Task driven
Low regard for individuals
Low morale
Little or no CPD
Focus on the immediate

Learning school
Pupil centred
Values people
Focus on CPD
Focus on capacity and capability building

Lack of vision
Diffuse roles
Lack of team roles
Poor leadership
Poor organisation or management of the school

Clarity of vision
Clear roles
Effective team work
Effective organisational structures
Clear leadership

Absence of:
Audit and feedback
Peer reviews
Performance review
External evaluation

Internal measures regularly used
Audit or feedback used routinely
Peer review
External measures

Support structures
Not in place
Lack of journal clubs/research learning communities
No guidance on processes
No external partnerships with research schools or HEIs
Time not made availabled

Part of routine processes
Journal clubs and research learning communities embedded
Clear guidance on processes
Partnerships with research schools and HEIs
Dedicated and ring-fenced time available



Position in school
Change agenda

Change agenda successfully negotiated


Range of style and flexibility
Consistent and appropriate presence and support

Adapted from (Kitson et al., 1998) Figure 3 p151 

As such, those schools which would appear to have the greatest chances of successfully evidence-based practice and associated innovations, would appear to be predominantly on the right-hand high side of the continuum. Whereas those schools who have significant work to do to increase their chances of successfully implementing evidence-based practice, would have features primarily located on the left-hand side of the continuum.

Now having undertaken an initial assessment of your school’s readiness to use research and evidence, try to plot where you and your school are on the following evaluative grid. In doing so, you are going to focus on your evaluation of the evidence and context elements of the PARiHS model.

Figure 2 The PARiHs Diagnostic and Evaluative Grid - adapted from Kitson et al, 2008

In Figure 2, Q1 represents a school which has a weak context -  though strong evidence on which decision-makers and the main stakeholders can agree. Q2 represents the ideal situation for the implementation of evidence-based practice, where there is a strong supportive school context and agreement on the strength of evidence available. Q3 is where there is weak context and a school in this quadrant is not well placed to take advantage of any agreement about the strength of the evidence. Finally, Q4 represents a situation where the school has a strong context but where there is little or no agreement about the strength of the evidence available to bring about changes in practice

So what does this mean for the facilitation of evidence-based school leadership?  Drawing on the work of (Greenhalgh, 2017) if a primary concern is that colleagues are not aware of the research evidence available to them as teachers and school leaders, a priority for you as the school research lead/champion maybe to help individuals gain a greater awareness of the available evidence and how to evaluate it.    Alternatively, if there is a recognition that the school context is weak – there may be greater focus on putting in enabling conditions – such as focussing on pupil and staff learning, ensuring individuals have clear roles and responsibilities and there is an appropriate organisational framework - such as journal clubs or time for evidence-based CPD

However, whenever we look at a conceptual model and heuristic we need to see whether there is robust evidence demonstrating the efficacy of the approach. For as (Greenhalgh, 2017) notes in the context of healthcare there are no studies of how PARiHS has been used as the original authors have intended, indeed all studies into PARiHS have tended to use the framework to look back at what had been done. That said, as Greenhalgh notes – the PARiHs has what she calls ‘face-validity – that is it seems intuitively sensible that evidence, context and facilitation are all key to implementation. Furthermore, at a broad-brush level, the PARiHS framework is sufficiently flexible to allow its application to many different situations and examples’ (Greenhalgh, 2017).

And finally

You may wish to use the PARiHS framework as an initial diagnostic which captures your school’s readiness to engage with the implementation of research and evidence-based practice. If it works for you, fantastic. If not, there may be other models which work in your context such as the NFER self-assessment too