Learning Collaborative between Researchers and VR Agencies
Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston
Research and Technical Assistance Center on Vocational Rehabilitation Program Management
Submitted by DeBrittany Mitchell
Collaborations between practitioners and researchers are important for effective knowledge translation to occur. The Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center on Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program Management (RTAC) developed a Learning Collaborative with partnering state VR agencies to identify and develop solutions for workforce issues in order to increase the effectiveness of VR services delivered to people with disabilities.
The RTAC developed and tested the VR Program Management Framework that includes the use of evidence indicating associations between VR agency management practices and agency outcomes. RTAC implemented and validated the VR Program Management Framework by initiating a Learning Collaborative (LC) comprised of VR agency staff and researchers at RTAC. Using the LC approach to partner with VR agencies helped facilitate peer-to-peer and practitioner-to-researcher knowledge sharing.
The RTAC invited VR agencies to participate in the LC to implement a management initiative and succeeded in engaging 18 state VR agencies. The resulting collaborative exchanges not only facilitated the achievement of specific project objectives determined by each VR agency as an area for improvement but also provided agencies with new ideas and information and resources with which to address broader agency management concerns.
Knowledge translation requires interactive and engaged processes between researchers and stakeholders. Key to the success of the RTAC LC was building lasting relationships, facilitating knowledge sharing, and tailoring research to users' needs in a highly collaborative fashion. This approach minimized the knowledge-to-action gap by developing ongoing communication and a system of interactions involving researchers, evaluators, and content experts with those who plan to use it (VR agencies).
RTAC staff customized their technical assistance activities to promote interaction and engagement by using familiar formats, establishing channels of peer-to-peer information flow, maintaining a focus on improved agency performance, and incorporating continuous feedback loops such as evaluations and audience check-ins.
The peer-to-peer exchange initiated a cross-VR-agency strategy for problem solving, identification and application of practice-based solutions, and evaluation of related outcomes. The integrated KT research approach increased the capacity for RTAC to produce research findings that are more likely to be relevant to and used by VR agency staff.
The majority of LC participants reported during exit interviews that the diversity of the projects undertaken by each VR agency enhanced their overall experience. One observation indicated that while the VR agencies did not share identical goals, most did address common management issues. The approaches each VR agency used in assessing and addressing their management issues were relevant for all VR agencies.
Exit interviews indicated improvements after participation in the LC were:
- Improved communications with and among agency staff
- Increased awareness, knowledge, and use of data as the basis for agency decisions
- Increased staff development opportunities for emerging agency leaders
- Improved relationships with agency stakeholders and partners
- Streamlining of agency policy
- Improvements to agency hiring practices and identification of new staff positions
- Improved management focus and alignment of resources
The LC refined and tested the utility of the RTAC VR Program Management Framework as a basis for helping guide management improvements. One general observation about the framework was that while useful as a generic representation of an approach to continuous improvement, both at the VR management project level and at the larger agency level, greater specificity to the VR context would have likely been beneficial. The RTAC staff observed a number of common characteristics of effective management practices and used this information to begin to provide greater definition of each dimension of the framework.
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