Supporting and Scaling Change: Lessons from the First Round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) Program

A new paper published by Bellwether Education Partners, assesses the initial effect of the first round of the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative on specific elements of the innovation ecosystem in education, including innovators, philanthropic donors, and the federal education agency itself. Read the press release.

First established as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (otherwise known as the “stimulus” legislation), and now continued as a regular Department program in the fiscal 2012 year, i3 was intended to shift the innovation ecosystem toward greater quantity, rigor and diffusion of innovation, to thread innovation into the way the Department itself works (including the use of a “field scan” mechanism) and to align funding for the “supply” of innovation with the “demand” the U.S. Department of Education had created through other federal programs. Finally, as a public-private partnership, the i3 program explicitly sought to create greater alignment among innovation investments in the public, private and philanthropic sectors, and to improve the quality and sustainability of these efforts.

The paper seeks to determine to what degree the initial i3 program made progress toward its stated goals, and what can be learned from that experience to continue advancing innovation in public education for the benefit of the millions of students who rely on the public school system every day?

While it’s too soon to assess the ultimate impact of i3 (whether student achievement will rise as a result of more and better innovation), it’s not too soon to consider its early lessons, especially as the program’s second round kicks into gear. To do so, the report’s authors began soon after the first round of i3 was complete with a survey of more than 300 people, including i3 applicants and philanthropists, interviewed nearly 50 stakeholders, and also reviewed the extensive set of documents made publicly available by the Department about the process, as well as the relatively limited amount of i3 analysis to date from the education reform community and in the media.

The Bellwether paper reports on the important efforts of the philanthropic sector to leverage the Department of Education's $650 million i3 investment. 

“On the whole, the philanthropic sector was very receptive to the federal government’s interest in applying innovation to improve public education. “With the downturn, foundations were retreating, and this was a good way to get them to increase spending to leverage government funds,” one funder explained. In spring 2009, national foundation leaders joining together as the Foundation Executive Group invited Arne Duncan to a meeting where he shared his emerging agenda and they gave him a paper summarizing their education priorities. In fall 2009, Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, organized a follow-up meeting with 10 foundation presidents that identified several overlapping priorities between the foundations and the Department, including innovation in teaching and leadership and in new school models and designs. Those foundations agreed to work closely with one another and with Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary at the Department and head of its Office of Innovation and Improvement, to coordinate philanthropic resources with the Department’s efforts. This group of foundation presidents and their staff became very engaged in ongoing conversations about how best to structure i3 as a successful public-private partnership.  Read the full report online.