Lateral leadership: Networks and ecosystems in education – what do we know about their effectiveness and impact on equity objectives?

Year: 2019

Author: Hartnell-Young, Elizabeth, Suggett, Dahle, Niballi, Nives

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This interactive workshop will critically examine networks in education and identify the characteristics of networks most linked with gains.

For two decades governments, universities, and not-for-profits have embraced networks toenable schools to achieve greater levels of improvement through collaboration with other schools and community than when working independently. Collaboration through networks balanced by autonomy in decision making is now a pervasive administrative strategy. This taps into notions of horizontal and reciprocal non-hierarchical forms in public administration theory and the benefits of engaging more actors in constructive solutions.

More recently the notion of ecosystems has emerged where actors and stakeholders work together in looser arrangements for a common purpose that will not be met as well through conventionally structured relationships. New roles have emerged – ‘boundary spanners’, brokers and mediators who build and sustain the new relationships.

An underpinning theory of action links network activities with improved student outcomes and enhanced professionalism but the evidence of improvement has been relatively mixed. An examination of networks established by government in Victorian education since 2003 shows widely varied models ranging from department funded and voluntary school-led networks to well-funded mandatory system-led networks and 'communities of practice'. Evaluations typically have mixed results.

In this workshop, a short presentation on an evaluation of The University of Melbourne Network of Schools (UMNOS) (Hartnell-Young and Nibali 2019) and the experience of workshop participants will provide the basis for an exploration of the characteristics of effective networks, such as:

* The importance of establishing the strategic purpose. This might range from co-operation to co-ordination to collaboration, The need for network membership to include the skills and agency for making decisions. What form of network engenders intrinsic motivation for decision making and change?
* Timing. A network needs to be established at the right place in the ‘value chain’ of improving outcomes: are networks established where they add most value to outcomes?
* Investment. The crucial importance of facilitative/support structures; are both material and relationship costs taken into account?

Hartnell-Young, E., and Niballi, N., (2019) ‘Its Collaboration not a course, Evaluation of the effectiveness of The University of Melbourne Network of Schools 2014-17’,AssessmentResearch Centre, The University of Melbourne.