A LEAP in evidence-based innovation for education

How to address the need for evidence-based innovation in education by empowering researchers, social entrepreneurs and education organizations to work together.

November 21, 2022 by Rachel Landers, MIT Solve, and Cathrin Jerie, Jacobs Foundation
4 minutes read
Nelly, a 7 years old girl, is studying at home, in Abidjan, in the South of Côte d'Ivoire. Credit: UNICEF/UNI317552// Frank Dejongh
Nelly, a 7 years old girl, is studying at home, in Abidjan, in the South of Côte d'Ivoire.
Credit: UNICEF/UNI317552// Frank Dejongh

Global education innovations are ripe with potential to improve education around the world. However, more often than not, the solutions that end up in the hands of policy-makers, educators and students lack evidence-based development and fail to make progress on the complex issues they were designed to improve.

Even when there is recognition of the need for evidence-based innovation in education ventures, financial and structural barriers often hinder organizations to embark on this journey.

Take early-stage entrepreneurs or innovators: hiring support to become more evidence-based can be a prohibitive cost. Furthermore, dedicated opportunities for researchers and practitioners to collaborate on education solutions are scarce, leading to situations where the proposed innovations do not effectively meet contextualized education objectives.

Filling the evidence gap with tailored solutions: the LEAP initiative

At MIT Solve, having supported over 260 global social entrepreneurs since 2017, we know how transformative evidence-based groundwork can be for innovators looking to scale effectively and unlock funding and partnerships. And at the Jacobs Foundation, generating and translating evidence for education systems to improve and prosper is at the core of our mission.

Together we recently launched the Leveraging Evidence for Action to Promote change (LEAP) initiative, our effort to reduce these barriers and support organizations committed to advancing evidence-based and effective education solutions.

LEAP brings together teams of social entrepreneurs and researchers to collaborate on projects that address the research and organizational needs of teams working to tackle the most pressing challenges in education.

How does it work?

Each year, LEAP – managed by MIT Solve – launches a challenge with a unique learning focus and we invite education organizations to apply for support.

Applicants range from nonprofit organizations to social enterprises to for-profit ventures, but they share a common goal: to improve their education solution by accessing the tools, knowledge, and guidance necessary to build a product based on research about what works, or to prove the impact of an existing solution.

The winners of the challenge (project hosts) are then paired with a dedicated team of education researchers and social entrepreneurs (LEAP fellows) who lend their expertise for a part-time 12-week ‘sprint’ (or project). The LEAP fellows provide tailor-made strategies to strengthen the evidence base of the organization’s product, program or business model.

LEAP mechanism
Laura Metzger

Throughout the LEAP project, Solve sets guidelines for each phase, provides a shared communication platform, and facilitates key milestone meetings, allowing participants to draw on shared best practices and focus solely on content creation rather than project administration.

In a final stage, LEAP project outputs will be housed on the LEAP website as a public asset whose findings can be used by a wide range of organizations and contexts.

We aim to differentiate LEAP from hackathons – which generate innovations – and other innovator programs by providing hands-on, intensive research and organizational planning support to locally-based education ventures in order for them to grow their existing education solutions based on evidence.

Looking ahead

Our 2022 inaugural cohort of LEAP Challenge project hosts and fellows were announced in September 2022, with 10 projects kicking off over the next several months out of 120 different project ideas assessed and vetted by a panel of experts.

Project hosts represent five continents and countries ranging from Afghanistan to Myanmar to the United States. One project in Afghanistan needs support in researching how coaching impacts teachers’ capacity and confidence in active pedagogical approaches in extremely remote communities.

Another one in Rwanda is in need of research expertise to adequately assess the measurement of school leadership’s impact on students’ outcomes. You can see much more about how selected projects plan to leverage the support from LEAP fellows in their winning proposals.

All project hosts are organizations developing solutions that bridge learning gaps for children ages 2-12, combining the early learning years focus of the Jacobs Foundation with the 2022 MIT Solve priority of re-engaging learners disconnected from schooling after years of pandemic, economic instability and political turmoil worldwide.

With this new initiative, we aim to provide a model for effective research-practice collaboration that can be adopted and scaled by other actors in the education and innovation sectors.

By creating a facilitated collaborative space, we are testing the methods through which experts can best help education organizations on their evidence journey, while keeping in mind the realities of the contexts in which they operate – leading to effective, proven solutions that have potential to drive positive change in the education system at large.

Initial LEAP project deliverables will be publicly available on the LEAP site by early February 2023, and the next LEAP Challenge call for applications will launch in late spring 2023. Stay tuned!

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Good Work interesting blog

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