Do you often hear people say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, “I wish we could…”, or “Why don’t we…”? School communities are great incubators for new ideas—so why is it that many great ideas never get off the ground?
Recognizing that there are many reasons why good ideas get stalled, the Policy, Location, and Access in Community Environments (PLACE) Research Lab (www.placeresearchlab.com), University of Alberta partnered with the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (AESBP) Prevention Services to develop the Idea Readiness Tool. It was designed with the school community in mind: to help teachers, staff, parents, students, school administrators and school councils to successfully launch their great ideas.
The Idea Readiness Tool includes three key components to help encourage the implementation of healthy ideas in schools. Step One is to complete a short, one-page checklist to determine how “ready” your school community is for the new idea. The evidence-based theory behind the Idea Readiness Tool is that, depending on how ready your school is, different strategies and resources will be more effective in helping your school community support the idea. The checklist will help you determine whether your school community is an Innovator, in the Majority, or a Late Adopter. Completing the Idea Readiness Tool checklist allows you to match your school community with appropriate strategies based on readiness level.
Innovator school communities are often the first to test something new. For example, they may be the first in their district to introduce standing desks in classrooms. Innovator school communities tend to take risks and are attracted by high-reward ideas. They are keen to test new ideas and problem solve as issues arise. Existing resources and supports help innovator schools combat uncertainty around new ideas.
Example strategies for innovator school communities include:
- Frame the idea to appeal to the innovative spirit of the school community. Use momentum in the school community to promote new ideas. Frame your idea as a way to enhance the school community’s credibility or reputation as an innovator. For example, show how your example will set the bar for other schools, or how you will be the first in the district, province/territory, or country to adopt the idea.
- Generate support from leadership. Create a sense of excitement around the new idea, encouraging leaders to feel personally invested in its implementation.
In the Majority
Majority school communities are typically deliberate about adopting new ideas. They require time to decide whether an idea is worth adopting. For example, a majority school would build a school garden only after hearing the success stories of other school gardens. Majority schools do not lead the pack and tend to adopt new ideas at the same time as average school communities.
Example strategies for majority school communities include:
- Provide evidence and examples. Decision-makers will be more likely to consider adopting a new idea if they see evidence of how a similar idea was successfully adopted in another school community with a similar context.
- Frame the idea from the “majority” perspective. Although majority-type schools are hesitant to be the first to change, they also do not want to be left behind. Keep in mind that schools with a “majority” perspective will be interested in what is seen as evidence-based, popular, common and an “easy-win.”
- Provide tools and incentives for adopting the new idea. Look for ways to make adopting the new idea easier for majority school communities. For example, match the school community with an external organization with interest/expertise in the idea that can provide ongoing support.
Late adopter school communities are typically skeptical of new ideas and prefer to maintain the status quo. They will often wait until the majority has adopted an idea before implementing it themselves. Sometimes, late adopter schools need to be pressured to adopt a new idea, or they may never change (unless required to). For example, a late adopter school would not consider extending physical activity time in class unless the government mandated it.
Example strategies for late adopter school communities include:
- Provide evidence to show the benefits of the new idea outweigh the costs. Show that your school community can’t afford to not adopt the idea. Illustrate the detrimental impact of maintaining the status quo. Give examples of how other school communities have successfully adopted the proposed idea, and emphasize its success.
- Build strategic relationships with key stakeholders. Cast your net wide: reach out to administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents, community members, school board members, city councilors, and provincial representatives who can help your idea to spread and gain momentum.
- Understand the unique needs of late adopter schools and address underlying barriers. Gaining support for a new idea in late adopter school communities often requires time, debunking myths, providing ample evidence, and being prepared to counter opposing arguments.
The Idea Readiness Tool is available in PDF and online at www.ideareadinesstool.com. There, you can identify your school community’s level of readiness and begin considering strategies to help launch your new ideas. The strategies listed here are just a few of the many strategies in the Idea Readiness Tool. The Tool also suggests many external resources to help develop specific strategies.
Have an idea for your school community? Curious if your community is an innovator, in the majority, or late adopter? Try the Idea Readiness Tool checklist and begin working on strategies to get your great idea off the ground!
Example: Implementing a School Safety Patrol Program at Busy Street Elementary School
The school safety committee uses the Idea Readiness Tool checklist and learns they are considered a majority school community. To launch their safety patrol program, they decide to:
- share examples of successful safety patrol programs in other schools nearby who face similar traffic issues;
- highlight the program as an “easy-win,” keeping up with other neighbourhood schools that already have safety patrol programs; and,
- partner with the national school safety patrol program, which can provide training resources, organize regional incentives, audit the program and offer ongoing support.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabrielle Donoff is a planner and research assistant with the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, where she works with Dr. Candace Nykiforuk in the Policy, Location, Access and Community Environments (PLACE) Research Lab. Gabrielle enjoys working collaboratively with community partners and exploring the intersect of people, policy and place in health promotion. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | www.placeresearchlab.com