The CEDARS Center / SHOUT Group Blog

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Health - Development - Sustainability... Peace. Eric is back in school

We've been encouraged to get on with social media. So, as I'm away for 8 days of training at the Summer Peace Institute, I'm trying to post short updates on the new CEDARS Center Facebook Page. Come visit, like and follow us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CEDARS Welcomes Sarah Jones

Join us in welcoming the newest member of CEDARS, Sarah Jones!
We are proud to welcome Sarah Jones as the newest member of the CEDARS team.Sarah comes to us from the field of Education Research and Evaluation, and currently works in Don Ellison’s Human Capital and Human Protection Group. Although she treks often from Nepal, to India, to Togo, she’s had a lot of US domestic experience. In other words, she brings new and welcome perspective to our little group at CEDARS.

To help everyone learn a little more about our newest member, Sarah answered a couple of questions about her experience:

Which aspects of your educational and work experiences led you to become interested in sustainability?
The theme of sustainability has reappeared in my work over time as I’ve transitioned from conducting evaluation research on education reforms to evaluation research on other social and economic reform programs both domestically and abroad. It started with my dissertation and PhD work. I was the first researcher to systematically study the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) academies back in 1999-2002.

A lot of people at that time were writing about school effectiveness and the structural features of schooling with respect to the development of charter schools. The idea of effective schools research was to identify the structural features of schools that were leading to student success and then to reproduce those features in low performing schools. In a way, effective schools research was about sustainability, helping sustain high level student outcomes through school organizational development and reform.

While studying KIPP that was exactly what I expected to see: two schools, in two different regions of the country sustaining similar outcomes using a particular structural model. However, it became clear during my time at KIPP that it wasn’t just about school structure, it was about its organizational culture, and the cultural beliefs the participants (teachers, students, parents, school leaders) adopted. So I developed a hypothesis that sustainable school success isn’t just about a school’s structure, but also about it’s organizational culture, and the alignment between the two. Modern-day KIPP, I believe, is evidence of that.
When I started my research, there were two KIPP schools. Today there are 109 KIPP schools in 20 states and DC. Not to mention countless other charter schools that have attempted to replicate KIPP’s model. But some schools that replicated the features of KIPP turned out to be more successful than others. Why?

You emphasize a lot this concept of organizational culture. Our group has been more and more interested in recent publications about relational, political and cultural elements of organizational capacity. Do we need to go beyond structural and functional elements of organizational capacity?
For me, this is a big part of the sustainability question. Why do reform initiatives that are seemingly identical in one location not live up to the expectations that a model has set. I’m a culture person--I studied Sociology at UC-Santa Barbara and became interested in the notion of culture and the importance of organizational culture, in addition to the organizational structure and producing high quality programs. So this is an aspect I try to bring to understanding lack of sustainability in particular reforms. In the case of KIPP and KIPP-like schools, organizational culture seems to be a key component to reproducing and sustaining the success that the original KIPP schools have experienced.

My early work focused on education reform, much of which was funded by large scale NGOs. NGOs have had a vested interest in making sure that their investment continued beyond their funding. Therefore, the dilemma of replicability, scalability, and sustainability has always been something I’ve grappled with.

For example, I worked with the Gates Foundation, evaluating their small school reform initiative and did the same with the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. Both are doing small school reform initiatives, and one of the things they were interested in was the sustainability of their interventions. They were looking at distributed leadership and how that was related to sustainability, and also we discovered the level of buy-in. You can have distributed leadership, but if no one believes in it then it won’t have staying power.

The theme of sustainability has reappeared in my work over time as I’ve transitioned from conducting evaluation research on education reforms to evaluation research on other social and economic reform programs both domestically and abroad. This is what is so exciting to me about the CEDARS center. While I have looked at issues such as organizational culture, buy-in, socio-economic context of reforms, leadership, and organizational structure in relationship to sustainability, CEDARS has an active commitment to studying the topic systematically. 

What are the next steps for you and your work in sustainability?
About three to four years ago, I decided to transition to international development work, and it was a goal that I’ve had for a long time. I grew up internationally, studied abroad, lived abroad, travelled, but I wanted to hone my research expertise before applying to other contexts. My next career goals are to continue doing international development work, but most importantly, evaluation research that will help identify ways in which programs can improve reform initiatives and enhance their sustainability.

I also want to work with funding agencies on how they can create more sustainable social reform initiatives, and how they may think about sustainability as they construct calls for proposals for reforms.

The last piece, which is possibly the most important for me, is in-country capacity building. Let me give you an example. Currently I am working with the US Department of Labor which is evaluating its anti-child labor, anti-child trafficking programs around the world. I want to work with both the Department of Labor as well as their grantees to think about how they may design a sustainable initiative. And in addition to that, I want to build capacity in the countries where I am working so that local researchers may assess their programs and determine what changes may be made in order to encourage sustainability.

I like that you’re touching not just on the evaluation of sustainability, but on capacity building in research and evaluation—fundamentally, learning—as a necessary ingredient of sustainability.
As a researcher, evaluator, and methodologist, I’ve always been a teacher, to some degree. I aspire to encourage other people to learn how to do this kind of work, because I certainly don’t have all the answers. And if we begin to work together to try to answer some of them in a systematic manner, we will advance quicker.

And that is what I am confident I will be able to continue to do with the other Fellows at the CEDARS Center. It really is exciting to know that I will be able to participate in this important work,and collaborate with a group of scholars connected to professionals who practice and work on the ground.