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How Might Research-Practice Partnerships Support Educational Leaders' Research Use?

Tue, April 9, 12:20 to 1:50pm, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Floor: Mezzanine Level, Alberta


Objective: Many hypothesize research-practice partnerships (RPPs) as a productive knowledge mobilization strategy, yet how RPPs might contribute to shifts in research use is still under-theorized.

Theoretical framework: We draw on Author’s (2016) definition of research-practice partnerships: Long-term, mutualistic collaborations between practitioners and researchers that are intentionally organized to investigate problems of practice. For many RPPs, their aim is to support leaders’ engagements with research. Here, we use the Weiss and Buculavas (1980) typology which suggests that leaders’ use of research is multifaceted and characterized by at least four main roles for research: instrumental, conceptual, symbolic/political, and process uses of research.

Modes of inquiry: This report presents results from a descriptive study of the Researcher– Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research program, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education. We studied the first three cohorts of partnerships, funded in 2013–2015. A total of 114 participants completed the survey (response rate = 78%), including 62 researchers and 52 practitioners. We also draw on results of a nationally-representative sample of U.S. educational leaders’ uses of research (n = 733 leaders, response rate = 51.5%) (see Author, 2016 for more information). Analysis included descriptive statistics of survey scales and qualitative coding of an open-ended item about a piece of useful research.

Findings: The ways that RPP district leaders reported using research were similar to those reported by educational leaders in the nationally-representative sample. In both samples, educational leaders reported using research frequently and in multiple ways. Compared to the national sample, RPP district leaders reported significantly less frequent symbolic use of research and more frequent process use.

When we asked RPP practitioners to name a piece of research that was useful to them, RPP study practitioners answered this item differently than did respondents in the nationally representative sample. One striking trend is that RPP practitioners most often named journal articles, whereas national survey respondents most often named books. Research named by RPP leaders focused on particular student subgroups more frequently than did research named by national survey respondents. For almost three-quarters (73%) of RPP practitioners, the topic of the research matched the focal topic of their RPP.

Implications and significance: Because of limitations with the research design, we cannot attribute the differences in the two samples through a causal lens. Yet, these exploratory findings still raise important questions for those who see RPPs as a promising strategy for supporting knowledge mobilization. For example, is there a selection issue occurring with RPPs? That is, are practitioners who engage in RPPs fundamentally different than their peers who do not choose to participate in an RPP? Or, is there an explanation related to access to high-quality research? That is, participating in an RPP created opportunities for practitioners to engage with peer-reviewed journal articles in particular topic areas? These questions are critical if we are to understand how participation within an RPP serves as a pathway to support research use.


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