Thursday 14 December 2017

School research lead and simple sabotage

As we approach the end of the calendar year it seems only sensible to have an end of year list.   So in the spirit of 'bah humbug' I thought I'd provide a checklist of those actions where you may have tried to sabotage yourself as school research lead or where others may have tried to undermine you.  This checklist is based on Simple Sabotage by Galford, Frisch and Greene - which in turn is based on guide to sabotage produced by the US Office of Strategic Services in 1944

A checklist of acts of sabotage

Insist on doing everything by ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken to expedite decisions

Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length.  Illustrate your points by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experience. Never hesitate to make a few comments that .we are doing it for the pupils’

Where possible refer all items to ‘committees’ for further discussion and consideration.  Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.

Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible

Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes and other documents

Refer back to matters already decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question or the advisability of the discussion

Advocate ‘caution’ Be reasonable and urge your colleagues to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might lead to embarrassment later on

Be worried about the propriety of any decision – raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the remit of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher eschelon

CC everyone into to all your emails and discussions

So what are you to do if there are ticks in either column.  Well if it's you sabotaging yourself, the answer is simple STOP doing it - and do something else instead which increases your chance of success, for example, have working groups of four or less.  If it is others trying to sabotage  - call the behaviour out - if a decision has been made and subsequently someone tries to re-open the discussion - just say - 'Thank you for your comments, a decision has already been made and we are moving on' - and then move on

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.