Sensemaking in the Process of Inquiry: A Qualitative Case Study of a Networked Improvement Community


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Sensemaking in the Process of Inquiry: A Qualitative Case Study of a Networked Improvement Community is a well-researched Education Thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research.


There are persistent and pervasive issues plaguing American education, and almost seventy years of educational reform efforts have failed to adequately improve educational outcomes for many of America’s children. Networked improvement communities (or NICs) are a type of social organization created to address such problems and are proposed as an effective and efficient way to organize improvement efforts.

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the sense-making experience of a newly-formed networked improvement community as members engaged in inquiry around a chosen problem of practice. During network initiation, NC members engage in experiences to collaboratively identify and collectively articulate a central problem of practice, and these intentional inquiry processes are a critical step for newly-formed networks.

The study was designed to answer the following questions about this research case: 1. What initial understandings emerged about the networked improvement community’s chosen problem of practice? 2. How did members of a newly-formed networked improvement community begin to make sense of their organizational problem of practice through inquiry? a. What cues triggered member sensemaking? b. What actions propelled member sensemaking forward? Data collection methods included the selection of naturally occurring network inquiry documents originating from the member-generated student and teacher journey map experiences and corresponding member reflections and discussion via a network blog (or discussion forum).

The data were analyzed utilizing both deductive and inductive strategies across multiple phases of analysis. Likewise, the data were reviewed against the study’s conceptual framework, which was based on current research on networked improvement communities and the sensemaking process.

Measures of rigor were achieved through multiple strategies, including triangulation, disconfirming evidence, rich descriptions, theory-based sampling strategy, and peer debriefing/expert review. The data revealed not only a rich understanding of the network’s problem of practice but also provided a window into what types of cues triggered member sensemaking in this social structure and what actions propelled member sensemaking forward in this ongoing process.


There are persistent and pervasive issues plaguing American education, and almost seventy years of educational reform efforts have failed to adequately improve educational outcomes for many of America’s children (LeMahieu, Grunow, Baker, Nordstrum, & Gomez, 2017; McFarland et al., 2017; Nayfack, Park, Hough, & Willis, 2017; O’Day & Smith, 2016).

Reform efforts in the past have focused on such issues as the role of a national curriculum, individualized instruction, fidelity of implementation to programs, school climate and culture, school leadership, school and class size, teacher coaching and evaluation, and performance-based incentives (Bryk, 2015; Fullan, 2012; O’Day & Smith, 2016).

Policymakers, state education agencies, local school districts, educators, and reform leaders have contributed a substantial amount of energy, time, resources, and expertise to shepherding this various improvement
efforts in and across various contexts (Cannata, Cohen-Vogel, & Sorum, 2017).

For many of America’s most disadvantaged students, however, educational reform has resulted in little change with aspirations for the nation’s schools continue to grow faster than the current rate of school improvement (Bryk, 2017; Russell, Bryk, Dolle, Gomez, LeMahieu, & Grunow, 2015).

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s The Condition of Education 2017 report (2017), “Closing achievement gaps is a goal of both national and state education policies”(p. 158); however, recent national assessment outcomes show mediocre progress for America’s students in general, with even less progress for minority children and those with disabilities.

Furthermore, national performance outcomes continue to lag those seen internationally (Equity and Excellence Commission, 2013; McFarland et al., 2017; O’Day & Smith, 2016; The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013). Furthermore, these issues are in inexorably intertwined with factors such as high rates of child poverty, poor nutrition, increased homelessness, and home and school violence (Children’s Defense Fund, 2017; Equity and Excellence Commission, 2013; McFarland et al., 2017, O’Day & Smith, 2016).

In efforts to solve these problems new kinds of reform efforts, designed to not only improve the fundamental opportunity of America’s educational system but also support effectively scaling those improvement efforts, are emerging and these efforts have garnered national attention (Cannata et al., 2017; Elmore, 2016; O’Day & Smith, 2016; Redding, Cannata, & Taylor Haynes, 2017).

Both the nation’s Race to the Top grant program and most recent national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), provide states with a greater level of discretion over state standards and models for accountability and school turnaround processes.

In addition, they have offered significant resources and levels of authority to States and their school districts to implement reform models that were evidence-based and promised to engage educators in continuous improvement methodologies (Peurach, 2016; Russell, Meredith, Childs, Stein, & Prine, 2015).

In response, ESSA also introduced new grant opportunities to states and school districts via the Education Research and Innovation program, designed to support new and innovative pathways to achieve and engage in continuous school improvement (Peurach, 2016).

Over the last five years, there has been growing collaboration among both public and private educational entities and interested states, districts, and schools choosing to apply innovative, continuous improvement approaches in local contexts (Cannata et al., 2107a; Tichnor-Wagner, Wachen, Cannata, & Cohen-Vogel, 2017). Innovation, collaboration, and evidence serve as the focus for America’s next phase of reform efforts (Bryk, 2018; Peurach, 2016).

While innovation and collaboration focused on evidence-based practices are key components to current school reform initiatives, how those practices are adopted and scaled in new settings is an important factor to consider (Bryk, 2017; Elmore, 2016; Nayfack et al., 2017).

Innovative and evidence-based practices proving successful in one context are too often “transported wholesale [into other contexts] without examining why it worked and what conditions made it work” (Nayfack et al., 2017, p. 31) and lack attention to what structures might serve to facilitate or hinder improvement efforts (Cannata & Rutledge, 2017; Cohen-Vogel et al., 2015).

There is a growing awareness that the challenge of improving student outcomes extends beyond the identification and implementation of effective improvement interventions (Cannata & Rutledge, 2017; Cohen-Vogel, Cannata, Rutledge, & Socol, 2016; Lewis, 2015; Redding et al., 2017).

According to Elmore (2016), “if we have learned anything from 25 to 30 years of attempts to ‘reform’ education it is that every effort at reform is heavily influenced by the contexts, micro, and macro, in which it exists.” (p. 531). What is required for innovation, collaboration, and evidence-based practices to markedly change America’s educational system, corresponding student outcomes, and educational disparities is a fundamental shift in the way educational leaders and practitioners work – the education system must become a learning system (Bryk, 2015; Elmore, 2016; Fullan, 2016).

Continuous learning stance and a corresponding continuous improvement methodology have recently become catchphrases in the field of education. While there is a large body of research related to continuous improvement in the advancement of healthcare and industry, there is much to learn about how this model of reform could support improvement efforts in education and ultimately improve outcomes for students (Cohen-Vogel et al., 2016; LeMahieu, Bryk, Grunow, & Gomez, 2017; Park, Hironaka, Carver, & Nordstrum, 2013; Redding et al., 2017).


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