From add-on to add-in approaches to supporting research use: The case of educational leadership for equity

How can school district leaders redesign their work processes to improve the district’s use of research evidence?

Studies on the use of research evidence offer insights about the importance of structured opportunities to engage with research, but the field lacks specific strategies for integrating research into daily routines. Honig and Rainey hypothesize that research use is more likely if core work processes are redesigned to reflect prompt and ongoing consultation with research as part of broader improvement efforts. The team will apply Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to identify the conditions and specific strategies that aid district leaders’ redesign of their work processes in ways that advance research use. CHAT provides a lens for understanding how individuals and groups who are charged with a set of responsibilities (activity systems), carry out their work, confront contradictions between the goals of their work and their work processes, and redesign those work processes so that they can use research to learn and improve. The team will focus on the redesign work of three activity systems: school improvement planning by central office staff and school leaders; school staffing by leaders in human resources; and teacher professional development by the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership and Curriculum and Instruction units. The team proposes an embedded, two-year, comparative case study that will build theory about the utility of different strategies for integrating research in routines and offer insights about the specific procedures, tools, and activities that guide the redesign of processes to reflect and consult research. Data will be gathered via observations of meetings within each activity systems and coded for the depth of research use—from adopting the talk, to deep understanding, to use of research to improve. The team will also assess participants thinking about research with an online platform and conduct in-depth interviews and document reviews to further assess research use and shifts in protocols and routines.