Mal Lee and Lorrae Ward
One of the great shortcomings in schools today is the absence of appropriate approaches or methods school leaders and teachers can readily use to adjudge the various benefits flowing from the introduction and use of an ever-growing suite of digital technologies in their school. These benefits are wide ranging, relate to more than one group of participants in education, and vary in nature. Some are financial, others are academic, still others are related to relationships and the way people collaborate and work together. Adding to the complexity there are also the unintended consequences and the potential dis-benefits for some.
That shortcoming is ever more apparent in those schools that have gone digital and networked. They have daily to decide on the value of technological solutions while contending with the pressures of constant, rapid and often uncertain change, and of undergoing a fundamental organisation evolution where there is a pronounced move away from the old silo like operations, the dismantling the traditional internal and external school walls, an ever greater integration of operations and a realisation that educational success is dependent upon astutely addressing suites of interrelated variables.
The present measurement tools were designed for schools characterised by their constancy and continuity, and are of little use or value in the new ever-changing environment. They were most assuredly never intended for schools where game-changing technologies can markedly impact a networked school’s modus operandi within months. Rather, they were intended for the siloed, paper based world of the 19th and 20th centuries; a world where the complex interactions and relationships between activities, people and contexts were not as apparent as they are today. In that world one measured specific outcomes and attempted to attribute causality to specific interventions or events. In this world the potential of technology to disrupt business as usual was not recognised, or realised.
The solution we believe lies in learning from the corporate world and how it has enabled organisations to identify the impact and value added by the technology in a constantly evolving setting.
We full well recognise that schools are, and should be, very different from business but as you’ll see below there is much to be learnt from how the corporate world has successfully addressed a raft of the issues that schools that have gone digital are now facing.
Fundamental is the adoption of what has been variously termed the Benefits Realisation Approach or Benefits Realisation Management (BRM). More recently benefits realisation has become an integral part of a framework known as Managing Successful Programs (MSP).
With adaptation, and the recognition of the complexity of teaching and learning, of the multiple contexts, multiple participants and widely divergent outcomes, we believe that benefits realisation can, and should, be successfully utilised by schools. One of the key issues is the language used and the confusion between notions of outcomes and benefits. Schools have always focussed on achieving outputs or outcomes. In benefits realisation these are the stepping-stones to realising benefits – the “good” that comes from successfully implementing an initiative.
That is what the authors are currently working upon.
The desire is to provide an approach with rigour that can be readily used in every school, small and large, at little or no expense, by those working everyday with the technology and constant change to inform their decision making, while at the same time allowing them to identify and account for the program benefits accruing.
The growing imperative is to provide those in the schools the tools to identify the benefits and to measure their realisation, while also monitoring the successful implementation of new initiatives and their impact on other areas of the school. The speed, complexity and distinct local nature of the change largely remove external bodies from the play.
Note that we are not advocating the large-scale collection of data or evidence beyond that which schools currently do. Rather we are talking about a framework for better utilising the evidence schools already have; for directing its use to realising benefits rather than compliance activities alone.