From Education Elements, MARCH 2017, Newsletter
How To Avoid "Initiative Overload"__
In just about every district where we work, we encounter “initiative overload” - the sense that programs, policies, or priorities are overwhelming everyone from students to teachers to district staff.
So when recently began working with a client on building a plan for using Open Education Resources (OER), we asked a fairly straightforward question: “Is this a new initiative?”
For our district stakeholders the answer was a clear “no” - using OER to fill in curriculum gaps was simply offering a new set of desperately needed resources. However, we discussed that when teachers are encouraged to use new tools and attend trainings on how to do so, that starts to feel like...another initiative.
How do you guard against this discrepancy? For one, it can be helpful for your organization to clearly define terms like “program”, “priority”, or “initiative” - terms that are often used simultaneously. But semantics will only take you so far.
We believe it is critical to spend time with teams thinking deeply about some essential questions before embarking on work that will ask stakeholders to rethink core tools or practices. We root that process in design thinking, carefully considering questions like the following:
• Diagnosis: What problem are we trying to solve?
• Ideation: What is the range of solutions that will address the problem?
• Alignment: How does our solution align with existing organizational programs and priorities?
• Impact: Who exactly will be impacted, and how?
Often a single solution will be perceived differently by different stakeholders. With OER, for example, board members might be most interested in the budget savings from free content, while teachers value the opportunity to replace outdated textbooks.
In any case, we believe it is critical that before bringing a solution to stakeholders, teams understand the problem it addresses from a variety of perspectives and can speak to connections with other work. Otherwise, even the slightest programmatic change can become an “initiative.”