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Big Picture Issues
Transformative Innovation in Education
In 2009 IFF published Transformative Innovation in Education: a Playbook for Pragmatic Visionaries. That publication starts with a reference to Shift Happens, a famous presentation about the pace of change in the world. It was originally prepared for a High School management meeting: the point being that while shift happens at an alarming rate in the world, it does not seem to happen at all in education. As one commentator put it:
'The surface is agitated and turbulent, while the ocean floor is calm and serene. Policy churns dramatically, creating the appearance of major changes while deep below the surface life goes on largely uninterrupted.'
IFF's 'three horizons' framework (described in detail in the book) offered some hope of breaking out of this cycle. By taking a longer term perspective it becomes possible to innovate with the future in mind (a desired third horizon), resisting the inevitable temptation of all innovation otherwise to prove its worth in simply prolonging the life of the existing system (first horizon) through efficiency gains and incremental 'improvement'. And it provides the notion of a managed transition (second horizon) to move from the present to our desired future - without asking for wholesale overhaul of the existing system as a precondition. This is the gentle art of 'redesigning the plane whilst flying it'.
The framework was tested in a variety of settings - in schools, local authorities, government and within the Schools Inspectorate itself. Although a very simple tool, it opened up new perspectives in these conversations and released pent up energy for radical innovation otherwise suppressed when 'improvement' and 'efficiency' were the only games in town.
As a result, IFF and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education together developed a simple 'Three Horizons Kit' to be used in every school as part of the existing school improvement planning process. After extensive trials throughout Scotland (and further afield) the final version of the Kit - 'Opening Up Transformative Innovation' - was launched at the Scottish Learning Festival in September 2011.
This has effectively opened up the space for a strategic conversation at school management level. It allows the articulation of a local vision. It reveals where aspects of that vision are already visible (either locally or elsewhere in the world) - thus giving encouragement that this is not just 'pie in the sky'. And it reveals within any group the hidden resource of energy and enthusiasm for the third horizon, for radical innovation.
The Scottish Government meanwhile, encouraged by this progress, began to take a closer interest - not least in the 'six point plan' for making shift happen that concludes the Transformative Innovation in Education book. As part of the plan, in March 2010 the government called together a network of around 20 headteachers from the most innovative schools in Scotland. This is the 'early adopters' network, convened by IFF and meeting at our headquarters in The Boathouse, Aberdour. The group meets for mutual support, to provide a lead in the journey towards the third horizon, to provide an input into national level policy and practice, and to encourage others to become 'fast followers'.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education - now Education Scotland
Last updated: 5 Dec 2011
The next question arising from schools using the 'Opening Up Transformative Innovation' Kit has been 'so how do we put our innovation into practice, with no management time, no budget, no facilitation, no support etc?' That has led to the development, again working closely with HMIE, of a follow up approach based on IFF Member Jim Ewing's 'Implemento' model. Education Scotland inspectors are now able to use this model to help school management teams themselves develop a story to tell stakeholders about a desired innovation and its aspirations, a set of measures intrinsic to the innovation itself to let the innovators know whether they are winning, and a project plan that incorporates learning from scenarios of both success and failure. This work continues under a five year Memorandum of Understanding between IFF and Education Scotland underpinning a joint desire to work for transformative innovation in education.