The Opportunity to Dream: How an Early Learning Network Implemented the Liberatory Design Process

From January to December 2021, the Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative (PLLC) team supported five school districts who participated in The Innovation Project’s (TIP) Early Learning Network, an initiative that centers equity in addressing vulnerable children’s learning needs. PLLC staff members led district teams through the Liberatory Design Process—a seven step approach to centering equity in reimagining and redesigning educational interventions. These seven steps include: Notice, Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and Reflect.

Researchers from the Program Evaluation and Education Research (PEER) Group from the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation sought to better understand (1) how the design process impacted district teams, and (2) the supports and barriers to design thinking and how to improve the design thinking process. Through case study methodology that incorporated focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews, and artifact analysis the researchers found that notions of accountability and intentionality, the awareness of self and others, and developing community partnerships were impactful for districts conducting this equity work. Further, intradistrict dynamics, the availability of resources, team-level dynamics, and non-linear processes frequently acted as supports and barriers to successful implementation of the Liberatory Design Process.

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