Giving Compass' Take:

• Chelsea Waite, writing for Christensen Institute, discusses the shortcomings of the word-of-mouth practice that highlights innovation in schools, but does not offer data-driven evidence of what works and what does not. 

• How can donors help create a resource of trusted, vetted reports on innovation that would deter the word-of-mouth practice? How do you find information about new programs or learning styles in schools?

• Here are five ideas for education innovation in 2019. 

All across the country, schools are innovating to better serve students—but from outside of schools’ four walls, it can be hard to gain visibility into where and how new approaches to student-centered teaching and learning are evolving.

Philanthropists, researchers, and organizations eager to spur and scale new models are constantly on the hunt for innovation in schools, but confront a perennial and paradoxical challenge of how to discover the school models and designs that are yet-to-be-discovered. How do these people and organizations discover and, in turn, support more schools at the cutting edge?

The simple answer is by word of mouth. In a set of interviews we conducted with funders, researchers, and intermediary organization leaders, the two strategies most often cited in discovering innovative schools were to ask other people for recommendations and to find recommendations through conferences, school networks, and grantee networks. Interviewees also cited secondary strategies: looking at research and reports; reading media articles and blogs; searching databases or lists of schools published by various sources; and straight-up Googling.

Needless to say, these strategies are workarounds to a troubling gap: the field lacks a coherent or unified resource to discover fresh examples and accurate information about innovative schools. Since word-of-mouth is such a common practice, it’s worth exploring what this strategy is accomplishing—and what it’s not.

But the popularity of this word-of-mouth strategy belies the shortcomings inherent in it. Here are a few important areas where it falls short:

  • It’s challenging to get beyond the “usual suspects.”
  • Mental models about innovation can get stuck. 
  • Trusted recommendations are reliable…unless they’re not. 

Read the full article about word of mouth innovation by Chelsea Waite at Christensen Institute.