A Practical Approach to In-Country Systems Research

Although this paper is about education systems research, it does not pretend to be a standard academic paper. It is, instead, an academically supported suggestion or “light advocacy” paper. Its focus is also a practical one. We are assuming that even as forms of international aid such as budget support for education ministries are questioned, non-project assistance and policy reform will continue to be relevant to the donor community. We also assume that traditional projects aimed at producing systemwide lessons for reformism will continue to be useful. As such, practical, evidence-based knowledge on how to support such programs will continue to be needed. One of the coauthors is a member of the RISE program’s Intellectual Leadership Team (ILT), and has been involved in the design of the program since its early days. As of May 2015 it seemed as if certain aspects of the program still could use sharper definition or a sharper statement of options—in particular when it comes to operationalizing things at the country level. This paper hopes to contribute to how RISE approaches the challenge of research into systems change. In particular, we draw on years of experience and research dealing with the complexities of education reform to consider how to link changes in system-level capacity to appreciable improvements in learning outcomes.

THIS PAPER HAS NOW BEEN REVISED AND AN UPDATED VERSION CAN BE FOUND ON THE RTI INTERNATIONAL WEBSITE: Doing Reform Differently: Combining Rigor and Practicality in Implementation and Evaluation of System Reforms