The RISE Education Systems Diagnostic

The RISE Education Systems Diagnostic is a set of tools to support local actors in selecting high-level strategic priorities to improve student learning based on the latest education systems research.

The Diagnostic can be implemented at the national, regional, or local levels. As of 2022, the Diagnostic has been implemented in seven field-based studies across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, led by diverse teams spanning NGOs, think tanks, consultancies, academic researchers, and government counterparts. These teams have used the Diagnostic for a range of objectives, including:

  • Policy prioritisation: Diagnosis of key misalignments between different parts of the education system, in order to identify and prioritise the policies that might resolve these misalignments and improve student learning. This objective would lend itself to strategic exercises and reviews of sector priorities and education sector plans.
  • Programme design: Diagnosis of the alignments and misalignments between an ongoing or planned educational programme and different parts of the wider education system. This objective would be useful to organisations trying to ensure a soon-to-be-launched programme “lands” within the wider system and achieves its intended impact.
  • Retrospective policy analysis: Backward-looking diagnosis of the education system and a policy in question to explain the success or failure of a reform and its impact on student learning. This objective would be useful to organisations seeking to understand success or learn from failure.

Systems thinking in the Diagnostic

This Diagnostic was developed by the RISE Programme, a long-term, multi-country research endeavour studying how education systems can overcome the learning crisis and cultivate learning for all children. A key premise of RISE and of the Diagnostic is that the challenges facing education systems are complex. Systemic educational challenges involve interactions and feedback loops among different actors, structures, processes, and resources. These interactions mean that introducing a standalone policy reform can have unpredictable consequences for schools, classrooms, and students. Instead, we need to look at education systems holistically and to identify reform priorities strategically. This attention to complexity, interactions, and different parts of a system is called systems thinking.

Accordingly, the Diagnostic is anchored in the RISE Education Systems Framework (Pritchett, 2015; Silberstein and Spivack, 2023). This framework is encapsulated in a 5x4 matrix that lays out the key relationships of an education system, the elements that characterise them, and the interactions between them.

Using this framework, RISE has designed, piloted, and refined this Diagnostic approach to identify constraints and priorities for reform in an education system. The approach identifies the key actors in the education system, specifies the relationships between them, identifies the primary alignment(s) of these relationships, exposes misalignments within the system, and identifies priorities for reform.

Figure 1. The Diagnostic is based on the RISE Systems Framework, which maps the relationships between different actors in an education system and explores the effects of these relationships on systemic outcomes.

The RISE diagnostic framework, showing relationships between the state; citizens/parents/students; and educators

The Diagnostic in practice

The RISE Education Systems Diagnostic has three purposes:

  • Diagnose: Facilitate the use of systems thinking to diagnose the components of the education system that are not working together as well as they could to deliver learning.
  • Prioritise: Facilitate high-level prioritisation of one or two key areas of the system for reform in order to create better alignment around improving learning outcomes.
  • Build consensus: Foster a common understanding across stakeholders of both the diagnosis and the priorities.

To achieve this, the Diagnostic analysis involves three components:

  • Identifying the main alignment(s) of each accountability relationship between different actors in the education system.
  • Identifying key misalignments within the education system.
  • Identifying priorities for intervention to improve system outcomes. 

Typically, the Diagnostic is led by a local team. This team could be based at a range of organisations, such as a think tank, government advisory organisation, civil society organisation, consultancy, or a university. It often involves a collaboration with government. However, other configurations are possible, such as a research organisation conducting the diagnostic on its own, or an organisation conducting the diagnostic with stakeholders other than government. Additionally, a steering committee comprising stakeholders from government and other parts of the education system should be formed to advise the research team. This steering committee will be involved in formulating recommendations based on the Diagnostic fieldwork and analysis.

The Diagnostic aims to generate a shared understanding among actors about the challenges the education system faces, and to facilitate the identification of priorities for intervention. Accordingly, the process is highly participatory. Workshops with government and other stakeholders form the core of the diagnostic data collection process, and the final recommendations of the process are generated by the steering committee, based on the analysis conducted by the research team.

Besides this shared understanding, the tangible final output of the diagnostic is a final report: a narrative-driven document describing the major misalignments within the education system that hinder children’s learning, and outlining top priorities for reform. From inception to final report, teams should plan on a timeline of approximately six months for implementing the Diagnostic.

The RISE Education Systems Diagnostic Toolkit

The RISE Diagnostic Toolkit comprises eight sections, all of which facilitate the implementation of the Education Systems Diagnostic. These eight sections are divided into three parts, as set out below.

Individual sections of the toolkit can be downloaded below. A single PDF compiling all toolkit sections is also available.

Part 1: Overview

Introduction [.pdf]

This introductory section aims to acquaint readers with the Diagnostic and to offer a preview of the rest of the toolkit.

Applications of the RISE Education Systems Diagnostic [.pdf]

This section lets users explore the range of its possible applications. It gives a brief description of the Diagnostic pilot studies conducted thus far. Each pilot study is discussed in terms of its context, purpose, implementation partners, implementation approach and adaptations, and key findings.

Part 2: Implementation

Understanding the RISE Systems Framework

This section lays out the conceptual background necessary to understand the RISE Education Systems Diagnostic. It can be read either as a section within the full toolkit or as a standalone RISE Insight

Guide to Applying the RISE Education Systems Diagnostic [.pdf]

This section provides step-by-step guidance in order to apply the Diagnostic through its six phases: (1) inception, (2) desk review, (3) stakeholder workshops and interviews, (4) analysis, (5) prioritisation workshop, and (6) final report.

Planning and Analysis Tools [.xlsm]

The Planning and Analysis Tools, which take the form of an editable, macro-enabled Microsoft Excel workbook, enable users to analyse the key alignments and misalignments within their education systems.  

Part 3: Resources

Glossary [.pdf]

Users can refer to the glossary for quick explanations of all of the terminology used in the RISE Education Systems Diagnostic Toolkit.

Training Videos and Slide Decks [.pdf]

This video recording of a Diagnostic training session conducted in March 2022, along with slide decks from this and other training sessions, can help users to equip themselves for implementing the Diagnostic. The slide decks may also be adapted for informing local stakeholders about the diagnostic.

Example Materials from the Pilot Studies [.pdf]

This section compiles a selection of materials—including data collection tools and final reports, among others—from the Diagnostic pilot studies conducted in 2022. The hope is that this section will inspire users as they design and implement their own Diagnostic studies.