For the past six years, Digital Promise has convened a national network of Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters)—leaders working to collaborate outside the traditional silos of sector and institution to design and implement transformative learning tools and programs in their communities.
The origin, learnings, and impact of the EdClusters movement offer vital lessons. As Digital Promise sunsets its formal Education Innovation Clusters initiative, its ecosystem-building efforts continue at a time when the need for and power of community have never been clearer. To deepen this work, Digital Promise has launched the Center for Inclusive Innovation, which will partner with districts and communities to pilot a research and development(R&D) model radically centered in amplifying marginalized voices. We remain committed to connecting, collaborating, and sharing with the field in this work.
To capture the vital lessons and stories of the EdClusters work, we’ve published a compendium of learnings from the movement. In addition to tools, resources, and profiles that codify best practices for community network-building, the compendium also highlights some larger takeaways, informed by insights from leaders across the field.
Being intentional about equity has anchored much of our learning. EdClusters are situated in cultures and contexts that have historically marginalized people, organizations, and communities—chiefly those who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, people of color, and people experiencing poverty. EdClusters can either disrupt or perpetuate those equity gaps.
Looking forward, we see the EdClusters field focusing in several key directions:
Specialization. As organizations and EdClusters develop expertise, they are beginning to more clearly focus their efforts. A focus on broader network-building efforts has shifted to more specialized programs and partnerships.
Reimagining learning. EdClusters will continue to support models that disrupt the broken industrial model of school. They will continue to leverage the best of learning science, digital tools, partnerships, community wisdom, and student voice to not just improve learning but redefine it.
Responsive collaborations. Partnerships will arise to meet specific needs, leveraging the connective tissue of the network. (Read our blog series on EdClusters’ COVID-19 responses here.)
Deepening specific projects. EdClusters are increasingly focused on key initiatives that can be built over time, leveraging multiple partners. Specific programs will likely provide the anchor for EdClusters work going forward.
R&D infrastructure. EdClusters will continue to build, expand, and deeper infrastructure to support education innovation R&D work. Challenges remain around how best to share leadership, center equity, and scale learnings, but the promise and momentum of R&D partnerships in the EdClusters ecosystem is growing.
Reengaging the role of government. With shifts in policy and administrations, the field is poised to better partner with government at the federal, state, and local level. Government has the opportunity to invest in ecosystem-building at a time of critical need.
Centering equity. EdClusters are deepening their understanding of equity and are increasingly committed to amplifying marginalized voices and advancing anti-racist practices throughout their work. We urge decision makers and funders to align their investments of time, capacity, and resources with those commitments.
Since 2015, the EdClusters network has included more than 50 organizations in 20 regions across the country. Dozens of regions have built community ecosystems that incubate ideas, relationships, and projects. And they’ve launched powerful partnerships that brought schools, researchers, and innovators together in new and impactful ways. Digital Promise has been honored to convene and support this network, and we remain committed to sharing outputs, learnings, and partnerships as we continue in our individual and collective work.
To learn more, read the full compendium—The Power of Community Networks: Learnings from the Education Innovation Clusters Movement.