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The Messy Middle of Implementation at Scale

Wed, March 13, 6:30 to 8:00pm, Hyatt Regency Miami, Floor: Terrace Level, Orchid A

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


This panel examines the challenges and opportunities of scaling innovations in education, with a focus on navigating the “messy middle” of implementation. By presenting conceptual frameworks, practical examples, and philanthropic perspectives, the panel aims to offer insights and guidance to education innovators, implementers, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers. The presentation is relevant to CIES 2024 because it takes the premise that innovation in education is needed to improve and transform education systems worldwide to ensure equitable access to quality, future-ready education. By addressing the inherent complexities, political dynamics, and human factors involved, the panel offers practical insights and guidance to enhance the implementation process, benefiting education stakeholders worldwide.

The first presentation will explore the theoretical underpinnings of innovation implementation at scale and the intricacies of the "messy middle," which is a phrase the paper authors use to describe the complex and uncertain process that happens when an innovation that is beyond the pilot stage but not yet institutionalized into everyday practice, culture, and systems. (Authors, 2023). Drawing from Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory (2003) and insights gathered from innovators worldwide, this presentation offers a conceptual framework for understanding the challenges and opportunities in scaling innovations.

Building on this foundation, the second presenter will explore a contextual example from Zambia, focusing on the implementation of the Teaching at the Right Level innovation at scale. Through this case study, key insights and lessons learned regarding the messy middle of scaling education innovations will be shared, including the importance of using tools such as a scalability checklist and institutionalization tracker to navigate and guide sustainable implementation across different project phases.

The next presenter will provide an additional practical example of innovation implementation at scale, drawing from the lessons learned from the introduction of two wellbeing innovations that came from international contexts and were implemented into public schools in Helsinki, Finland. The paper discusses the role of change agents (Rogers, 2003) in helping guide innovation implementation and explores how factors such as building relationships, involving teachers early, understanding power dynamics, providing comprehensive support, and fostering an innovative school environment enhanced the scaling and adaptation of the two innovations.

Furthermore, the panel will discuss the scaling of an early-stage edtech social-emotional learning (SEL) intervention in Bangladesh, Uganda, and Greece, providing insights into the challenges, adaptations, and impact of implementing innovations across diverse cultural and educational contexts. The paper explores the importance of building partnerships with international organizations and private philanthropic organizations that were integral to the innovation’s ability to scale.

The role of private philanthropy in supporting and steering innovation implementation at scale will be explored by the final panelist. Through a funder's lens, this presentation sheds light on the strategies, successes, and lessons learned in contributing to the aims of innovation implementation. These include the need for building the evidence-base around what works and at scale, taking a collaborative, cross-sector approach to solve challenges, and being open to discussing when something has not worked and why.

To guide and deepen the discussion, a discussant with expertise in research on scaling will ask thought-provoking questions and encourage dialogue among the panelists.

In conclusion, this panel provides a platform for examining the challenges and opportunities associated with scaling education innovations and navigating the messy middle of implementation. By presenting conceptual frameworks, practical examples, and philanthropic perspectives, the panel aims to contribute to the broader conversation on innovation implementation at scale in education, offering valuable insights and guidance for innovators, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike.

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