Effective Implementation Framework
Vision to Reality
The Effective Implementation Framework describes how to manage complex changes to practice and policy.
Research-based initiatives should drive what happens in classrooms and schools. However, too often we see that new education initiatives fade away mid-year or that they have mixed results. Commonly the “what” – the new program or initiative – is where leaders solely put their focus. As a result, improvement is usually anecdotal and sporadic.
We believe that considering “how” to implement that new initiative is just as important. The Effective Implementation Framework was created to address this gap between vision and reality directly. The framework outlines the work and resources required to meaningfully change practice or policy in an organization in service of student success.
Every change starts somewhere.
Create a vision statement
Best Practice: District leaders create a consistent and compelling vision statement for change.
Establish rationale for change
Best Practice: District leaders can justify why change is needed, including articulating a theory of action that demonstrates how changes will lead to both short- and long-term outcomes. As a result, stakeholders understand both the need to move away from the status quo and the promise of achieving the shared vision.
Identify costs and benefits of change
Best Practice: District leaders identify known and potential costs and benefits of change for the district. The cost-benefit analysis is informed and confirmed by a variety of sources (e.g., stakeholder feedback, budget constraints, timing constraints, people capacity constraints, impact opportunities, best practice, and relevant research). Leaders also know that there may be risks and opportunities not yet understood.
Establish guiding coalition of champions
Best Practice: District leaders build a coalition of champions, key stakeholders who assume the responsibility of launching, rallying, and sustaining change efforts. Champions may include the superintendent, senior district leaders, and other key stakeholders (such as principals, teachers, parents, community members, and school board members). They agree with, and work to build buy-in for, the vision for change.
Create a sense of urgency and excitement
Best Practice: District leaders create a sense of urgency such that stakeholders are genuinely excited by the vision for change, understand why immediate action is needed, and are eager to contribute to change efforts.
Questions to Ask
- Is there a clear, ambitious, and achievable vision statement guiding our change effort?
- Does the vision statement drive all plans, decisions, and actions?
- Can leaders and stakeholders describe why this change is needed?
- Is there a commonly understood theory of action aligned to the vision?
- Do leaders use data and other evidence to understand costs and benefits of the change before diving in?
- Is there a coalition of champions?
- What would help build a sense of excitement and urgency about your change?
- The Importance of Vision by Tony Mayo, Harvard Business Review
- Vision Statement Key Components in the Strategic Planning Toolkit by Canadian Mental Health Association and Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs
- Vision Statement One-Page Guide by Craig Van Korlaar, TopNonProfits
- Understand Your “Why”, “How” and “What” through The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek and a Team Exercise by Louisiana Associated General Contractors
- Creating your Theory of Action Toolkit by The Wallace Foundation and Center for Educational Leadership and Theory of Action Examples by Illinois State Board of Education
- Why Use Cost Information in Decision Making by U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Science and CostOut: an Online Tool to Facilitate the Estimation of Costs by Teachers College, Columbia University
- Coalition Building by Community Tool Box and the Coalition Effectiveness Inventory by Coalitions Work
- For Things to Change, Someone Has to Act Differently: The Switch Framework, a 16-Minute Video and 4 Strategies for Motivating Your Team by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Accelerate! by John Kotter, Harvard Business Review
- Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins
Successful change depends on its stakeholders.
Identify stakeholders and their motivations
Best Practice: District leaders identify stakeholder groups and their interests. They can anticipate champions, undecideds, and resistors and identify competing or aligned priorities between groups.
Invite and strategically use feedback
Best Practice: District leaders demonstrably seek honest feedback from all stakeholders. District leaders effectively communicate how feedback is being used and set expectations that all feedback will be heard but not all feedback may be incorporated. They carefully evaluate feedback and incorporate elements that add the most value.
Understand the challenge and set expectations
Assess current state and use results
Best Practice: District leaders use data to assess the current state and use results to guide their ongoing planning. They continuously assess over time and adjust accordingly.
Understand root causes of current performance
Best Practice: District leaders investigate and can clearly explain why performance trends are occurring. They use a variety of information sources (e.g., surveys, data analysis, artifact review, observations, etc.) to determine root causes.
Set expectations and encourage persistence through distractions
Best Practice: District leaders ensure that stakeholders clearly understand the cycle of implementation will include both successes and setbacks. District leaders stay the course and demonstrably support, encourage, and incentivize others to do the same.
Strategically plan communication
Best Practice: The implementation team considers when and how to best deliver specific content. They codify due dates, methods, and owners into a communication plan or project work plan.
Tailor message to audience
Best Practice: District leaders deliberately craft messaging that is compelling, often by incorporating hope and a sense of possibility. They also acknowledge concerns and risks. If a leader is not familiar with a particular audience, they seek help to improve their understanding. Effective communicators are consistent with messaging but can adapt to a range of audiences to support broad understanding.
Incorporate effective communication techniques
Best Practice: District leaders use a variety of communication techniques to achieve desired impact. Examples of communication techniques include telling stories, leveraging quantitative data, removing jargon, evoking emotion, utilizing visuals, and preferencing face-to-face communication when possible.
Build momentum by celebrating success
Best Practice: District leaders publicly celebrate wins quickly and consistently. In doing so, they reinforce how successes are moving the organization towards the vision, and they are modeling a strong cultural practice.
Over-communicate and check for understanding
Best Practice: District leaders intentionally over-communicate by sharing the same message in multiple ways (e.g. email, face-to-face, newsletter, etc.). They value transparency. They purposefully check for understanding and action to determine whether their messaging is successful. They identify ways to improve their communication.
Questions to Ask
- Have district leaders identified all stakeholder groups?
- Do leaders know – within and across stakeholder groups – who are champions, neutral, or resistors?
- Do leaders seek and incorporate feedback from stakeholders when planning?
- Do leaders use a current state assessment to drive planning?
- Do leaders seek to understand root causes of current performance, both good and bad?
- Do district leaders demonstrate persistence and encourage others to do the same throughout both success and setbacks?
- Are communication efforts effective? How do you know?
- Is there a communication plan that is tailored to all stakeholder audiences?
- Do leaders celebrate quick wins?
- A Five-Step Approach to Stakeholder Mapping and a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy by BSR
- How to Get the Feedback You Need by Carolyn O’Hara, Harvard Business Review
- Why Current State Analysis is Important by Sergey Korban, LinkedIn
- Collect Data About the Problem by Community Tool Box and an Example School Improvement Planning Process by Clark County School District
- What is Root Cause Analysis: Guides, Case Studies and Resources by ASQ and Root Cause Analysis: Templates, Activities and Resources by Colorado Department of Education
- Turning Evidence into Action: The Missing Link in School Improvement by Scott C. Bauer and S. David Brazer, George Mason University and NAESP
- The Communication Guidebook by Center on Great Teacher and Leader at AIR and the Communications Plan Template by George W. Bush Institute and Gina Ikemoto
- Change Management Communication Plan by TMS Consulting
- Template for Strategic Communications Plan by W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Communication Planning: A Template for Organizational Change by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
Moving from vision to reality requires investment.
Invest in change
Ensure leadership support
Best Practice: Critical high-level leaders (e.g. the board, superintendent, and/or other senior district leaders) visibly support the vision and strategy, enabling a “sponsorship spine” to drive change.
Create implementation team(s)
Best Practice: District leaders build an implementation team(s) of the most essential stakeholders necessary to bring about change. The team members clearly understand their roles, responsibilities, and who is accountable for each step. Recognition of effort and success is shared.
Best Practice: District leaders invest extensive resources of time, people, and money in making change occur (e.g., they create specific teams focused on the change process; they allocate sustainable, protected funding; etc.).
Optimize individual effectiveness
Build content expertise
Best Practice: District leaders build the team’s (and other stakeholders as needed) content expertise related to the change efforts through coaching and by using relevant research, best practice, and experts (e.g., district leaders use a current state assessment to determine opportunities for improvement; district leaders hire or consult content experts; etc.).
Best Practice: District leaders create frequent, meaningful opportunities to build stakeholders’ understanding of new policies and practices (e.g., there are frequent opportunities for both central office and school personnel to learn about, discuss, and reflect on a new policy or practice). District leaders create regular opportunities to coach stakeholders on their implementation of new policies and practices (e.g., there are frequent opportunities to receive feedback on and observe the implementation of a new policy; there are frequent opportunities to plan with stakeholders and/or design pilots).
Optimize team functioning
Run efficient team meetings
Best Practice: Team meetings utilize practices that promote quality and efficient functioning (e.g., meetings have clear objectives; meetings involve facilitators, timekeepers, and/or other roles; meetings rely on team norms; meetings utilize protocols and agendas; etc.).
Create next steps and ensure accountability
Best Practice: Team meetings result in a list of clear, actionable next steps that include specific tasks, owners, and deadlines. There are visible norms and processes that ensure follow-up on next steps.
Create systems for collaboration
Best Practice: Teams have structures in place that promote frequent collaboration (e.g., regular meeting times; a document management system; cross-functional teams; etc.).
Questions to Ask
- Do high-level leaders visibly support this change?
- Is there an implementation team that understands their roles and feels accountable to each other?
- Is the district’s investment of people, money, and time sufficient?
- Have leaders created meaningful opportunities to build stakeholder understanding of the change?
- Does the implementation team have systems and procedures that promote accountability and project management?
- Deliverology in Practice by Michael Barber, Nick Rodriguez, and Ellyn Artis and From Idea to Implementation by Michael Barber, Paul Kihn, and Andy Moffitt
- Implementation Teams: Don’t Start Your Change Without One by Wendy Hirsch
- Implementation Team Module through the Active Implementation Hub by the National Implementation Research Network at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Roles and Responsibility Charting (RACI) by Michael Smith and James Erwin and a RACI Matrix Template by Vertetx42
- Secrets of Successful Change Implementation by Alasdair Johnston, Frederic Lefort, and Joseph Tesvic, McKinsey & Company
- Capacity Development Primer by United Nation Development Programme and Capacity Development Activities by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Plan a Better Meeting by Aaron De Smet, Gregor Jost, and Leigh Weiss, McKinsey & Company
- Checklist for Planning Your Next Big Meeting by Harvard Business Review Staff
- How to Plan an Agenda for an Effective Meeting by Roger Schwarz, Harvard Business Review and a Sample Agenda by Center on Great Teacher and Leaders
- Agenda and Next Steps Template by New York University and an Action Items Tracker by University of Illinois
Set Goals and Create Plan
Change is accomplished one step at a time.
Establish goals and priorities
Establish and prioritize goals that promote urgency
Best Practice: District leaders establish desired outcomes and then prioritize (and de-prioritize) goals by considering impact and timing. In addition, district leaders track desired impact against outcomes to refine priorities throughout the process.
Identify connections to other district initiatives and goals
Best Practice: District leaders see where district initiatives may overlap or compete. Using broader district goals as a guide, they seek to resolve any conflicts between initiatives and leverage complementary efforts.
Plan for implementation
Create an implementation plan
Best Practice: Teams have an implementation plan that outlines the what, who, when, and how of change (e.g., it focuses on how to achieve the vision; it explains how specific goals will be accomplished, by whom, and by when; it includes specific actions to be taken in order to implement initiatives; etc.). Teams use and update the plan consistently to account for new opportunities or setbacks.
Ensure timeline is sufficient
Best Practice: When planning for implementation, district leaders balance feasibility with urgency using techniques like backwards mapping, using pilots or tests, and considering school year cycles.
Anticipate challenges, identify risks, and plan accordingly
Best Practice: District leaders anticipate common pitfalls, such as competing priorities, budget constraints, and stakeholder resistance and adjust accordingly (e.g., considering the timing of the launch relative to other initiatives; determining how much additional work will be required of stakeholders; understanding what resources or other scaffolding stakeholders will need to implement; understanding requisite behavior shifts; etc.).
Plan quick wins
Best Practice: District leaders consistently identify and plan for quick wins (efforts that are both high-impact and achievable).
Questions to Ask
- Do the goals promote urgency? Do they align clearly to the vision?
- Are the goals prioritized based on impact and timing?
- Has the implementation team identified where this work overlaps with other initiatives?
- Does the team use a strong implementation plan to guide their work both short term and long-term?
- Does the team use backwards mapping to ensure timelines are feasible?
- Do leaders anticipate challenges and risks and plan accordingly?
- Are quick wins identified in the implementation plan?
- Implementation Planning Tool by Center on Great Teacher and Leader at American Institute for Research
- Writing Goals and Objectives by Department of Education and Tips for Writing Goals and Objectives by Amazon Web Services
- Goal Setting Worksheet by Opportunity Culture
- Creating Coherence and Alignment Tool by Center on Great Teacher and Leader at American Institute for Research
- Work Plan Definitions and Resource by MSU Texas, Work Plan Template by USAID and a Work Plan Example by Boston Public Schools
- Sample Strategic Implementation Plan by School District 197
- Best Project Management Tools by Vartika Kashyap, ProofHub
- Risk Management Framework by Victoria, Australia’s Department of Education and Training
- A Risk Management Plan and Risk Log Template by the CDC
- What are Quick Wins by Agency for Clinical Innovation and The Quick Wins Paradox by Mark E. Van Buren and Todd Safferstone, Harvard Business Review
Execute, Reflect, and Improve
Every change requires continuous improvement.
Best Practice: District leaders avoid planning paralysis and execute on high-quality implementation plans with urgency and a sense of possibility. They take action but pause when they feel reflection, revision, or correction is/are necessary.
Stay on track
Best Practice: Teams meet their deadlines for tasks and milestones. They adjust timelines when obstacles or delays arise, or they adjust to incorporate new information.
Generate quick wins
Best Practice: District leaders achieve quick wins. They leverage these quick wins to create momentum for additional, often more challenging efforts down the road.
Best Practice: Teams achieve their goals on time - or adjust their goals with evidence. Teams have a sense of accountability and expect consequences if goals are not met or changes are unexplained.
Best Practice: District leaders have meaningful systems in place to measure the progress of the change (e.g., district leaders have tools for collecting data about initiative progress and have regular check-ins with stakeholders to ask about implementation).
Reflect and learn
Best Practice: District leaders consistently use progress monitoring data to reflect on implementation and to identify, define, and analyze problems and bright spots. District leaders identify and share learnings (e.g., with stakeholders, other district initiatives, etc.) of what is not working, what is working that can be replicated, and where outcomes are still to be determined.
Best Practice: District leaders use the reflection process to identify high return improvements that can be feasibly implemented and monitored. District leaders also stop doing what is not working.
Adjust implementation plan
Best Practice: District leaders incorporate new or revised strategies into the implementation plan, as needed. They ensure that a revised plan aligns with identified opportunities for improvement, the possible entry of new stakeholders, and new anticipated challenges or opportunities.
Best Practice: Ongoing cycles of continuous improvement become deeply ingrained in the district. Stakeholders rely heavily on this methodology to guide implementation work.
Questions to Ask
- Do leaders value both urgent action and thoughtful reflection?
- Do leaders stay the course?
- Do implementation teams stay on track?
- Do leaders have systems in place to measure progress?
- Do leaders regularly and transparently reflect on progress?
- Do leaders make changes based on what they learn?
- Three Keys to Faster, Better Decisions by Aaron De Smet, Gregor Jost, and Leigh M. Weiss, McKinsey & Company
- Untangling Your Organizations Decision Making by Aaron De Smet, Gerald Lackey, and Leigh M. Weiss, McKinsey & Company
- Monitoring Tool by Center on Great Teacher and Leader at American Institute for Research
- Best Project Management Tools for (Almost) Any Task by Zach Watson, Technology Advice
- Goals and Progress Monitoring Example
- Evaluation Handbook by W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Action Guide: Gather and Review Data by CDC
- Identify Bright Spots by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Building the Capacity for Districts to Continuously Improve by Jeannie Myung, The Carnegie Foundation
- How Central Office Can Get Better with Structured Continuous Improvement by the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership