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Improvement science is rooted in quality efforts undertaken by organizations like Toyota and Bell Labs. Pediatrician Don Berwick wondered how these efforts could be applied in the field of healthcare. Leveraging quality improvement, also known as improvement science, he went on to found the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), an organization that is committed to improving health and healthcare worldwide. Quality improvement has been implemented at several hospitals, leading to positive results, including significant improvement in the number of medical errors.

A video from IHI (below) provides a high-level overview of quality improvement in the healthcare context. Although the contexts differ, the same concept can be applied to drive improvement in teaching.

The Six Core Principles of Improvement

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching outlines the six core principles of improvement.

1. Make the work problem-specific and user-centered.

It starts with a single question: “What specifically is the problem we are trying to solve?” It enlivens a co-development orientation: engage key participants early and often.

2. Variation in performance is the core problem to address.

The critical issue is not what works, but rather what works, for whom and under what set of conditions. Aim to advance efficacy reliably at scale.

3. See the system that produces the current outcomes.

It is hard to improve what you do not fully understand. Go and see how local conditions shape work processes. Make your hypotheses for change public and clear.

4. We cannot improve at scale what we cannot measure.

Embed measures of key outcomes and processes to track if change is an improvement. We intervene in complex organizations. Anticipate unintended consequences and measure these too.

5. Anchor practice improvement in disciplined inquiry.

Engage rapid cycles of Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) to learn fast, fail fast, and improve quickly. That failures may occur is not the problem; that we fail to learn from them is.

6. Accelerate improvements through networked communities.

Embrace the wisdom of crowds. We can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone.

Additional Resources on Improvement Science and Networked Improvement Communities

Resources on the problem of too few students completing advanced STEM courses at the high school level