The Progressive Employment Model Learning Collaborative (Update)

Scale-Up Progressive Employment
Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston

Submitted by DeBrittany Mitchell,


The progressive employment (PE) model is an employment strategy designed to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, while also meeting the needs of businesses. The PE Learning Collaborative is led by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) and comprises four mentor agencies, including the Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) who created the model, that have adopted the PE model and four mentee agencies that are earlier in the implementation process. The learning collaborative is an integrated knowledge translation (KT) strategy that aims to increase peer-to-peer communication, enhance PE model replication and fidelity, encourage problem-solving, and inspire strategies for sustainability.


In 2012, the ICI received funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR, now known as the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, NIDILRR) to replicate and evaluate the PE model. The ICI first sought to define the PE model, which was developed by the Vermont DVR. Next, the model was studied and replicated in state VR agencies in Oregon, Nebraska, and Maine using a learning collaborative approach. Finally, the model’s impact on employment outcomes for people with disabilities was evaluated. Researchers studying PE have found that the model increases the likelihood of exiting VR with an employment outcome in Vermont (Mann et al., 2018) and Maine (Siwach et al., 2021), potentially reduces rates of early unsuccessful exit or “drop out” from VR (Moore, Haines, Bradshaw, et al., 2018; Moore, Haines, Foley, et al., 2018), results in high levels of satisfaction and engagement of businesses (Robertson et al., 2019), and fosters collaborative environments among VR counselors and employment specialists serving individuals with disabilities (Yin &Siwach, 2019).

In 2020, the ICI received NIDILRR funding for the Scale-Up PE field-initiated development project to promote the broader adoption of the PE model by state VR agencies. The Vermont DVR, the Oregon Commission for the Blind, the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, and the Nebraska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation are early adopters of PE. These agencies now serve as mentors in the PE Learning Collaborative. In 2021, Scale-Up PE welcomed four additional state VR agencies—Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services Division; Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation; Vocational Rehabilitation New Hampshire; and New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired—who joined the Learning Collaborative to implement PE in their states.

KT Activities

The Vermont DVR created the PE model to improve employment outcomes for jobseekers with the most significant disabilities and those who face multiple barriers to obtaining and maintaining successful employment. As the model showed signs of success in meeting the needs of both businesses and VR consumers, the ICI partnered with the Vermont DVR to examine the model components. ICI helped VR agencies in Oregon, Maine, and Nebraska to implement the model. Together, these VR agencies formed the PE Learning Collaborative. The learning collaborative helped to refine the core model components and implementation strategies, which formed the foundation of fidelity measures. The collaborative also identified implementation barriers and solutions and explored how to adapt the model in other VR agencies. In the most recent funding year, the Learning Collaborative has evolved to facilitate mentor/mentee relationships between state VR agencies implementing the PE model.

Integrated KT approach. The learning collaborative is an integrated KT approach that guides the replication of the PE model while emphasizing the adaptation of knowledge that is context-dependent (Williams, 2007). For example, each agency adapting the PE model played a key role in determining areas where model implementation strategies may vary due to different agency infrastructures. As new findings emerge, the learning collaborative provides a forum for ongoing communication between researchers, training, and knowledge translation staff studying the model’s fidelity and VR agency leaders implementing the model. It also provides the needed infrastructure to enhance peer-to-peer collaboration between agencies implementing the model. The collaborative holds regular meetings (typically quarterly), site visits, and check-ins. The goal of these interactions is to move beyond disseminating research findings to fostering dialogue about challenges, barriers, and solutions to implementing the PE model. The PE Learning Collaborative positions the VR agencies who are implementing the model as co-producers of knowledge who inform research questions about model fidelity, assess each component’s potential for replication, share implementation strategies, and choose how they apply the model to their unique settings and the populations they serve.

Vehicle for Collaborative Problem-Solving. The collaborative results in more relevant and actionable research findings, better application of the findings in policy or practice, and enhanced mutual learning. While the states are implementing the PE model, the PE Learning Collaborative is used as a KT intervention to help agencies overcome identified barriers. Collaborative problem-solving across multiple agencies is a vital component of adapting the PE model because it promotes the sharing of cross-state solutions and strategies. Results from the VR agencies’ evaluations of the PE model, including lessons learned from implementing the model, have been documented and used to inform ongoing research, product development, and learning materials for other agencies interested in learning more about the PE model. As part of the Scale-Up PE project, ICI partners with Mathematica Policy Research to help build the capacity of VR agencies to conduct their own program evaluation of PE using the Evidence to Insights Coach evaluation tool.

Mentor agencies. The learning collaborative has always been a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange model. During 2021–22, the nature of this exchange has evolved to incorporate peer-to-peer mentoring. Agencies that have been with the collaborative longer and have developed expertise in implementing the PE model serve as mentors to newer members. Mentors provide implementation support to agencies that have recently begun to implement the model. Participating VR agencies have implemented the PE model in a variety of contexts across several different states. Some are general VR agencies serving jobseekers with all types of disabilities while others specifically serve blind individuals. The PE Learning Collaborative has illuminated common experiences across these various contexts in addition to fostering mentorship between agencies in similar contexts. For instance, VR agencies who use community rehabilitation providers (CRPs) as vendors for service delivery have mentored others to share strategies on CRP engagement, training, and payment structures. The introduction of mentor roles in the collaborative was motivated by ICI’s realization that much of the collaborative’s value was in enabling VR agencies with different structures, barriers, and opportunities to learn from each other. ICI saw value in giving mentor agencies more of a leadership role in the collaborative during the current project phase. ICI provides infrastructure to support these interactions by facilitating full-group meetings as well as one-on-one interactions for agencies to connect with each other. ICI also hosts ad hoc meetings in which PE experts speak on topics that have come up in the PE Learning Collaborative and mentor agencies describe solutions that have worked in their contexts.

Maximizing Impact of Product Development. Because of its structure, the PE Learning Collaborative is an effective way to work with agencies that are implementing the model on the development of KT products related to the model. The PE project creates multiple tools for agencies that are interested in the PE model. These tools include instructional materials, success story videos, and research briefs and working papers. In addition, the project aims to integrate feedback from businesses and consumers on the use and impact of the PE model on improving employment outcomes for people with the most significant disabilities. The collaborative ultimately helps to create a meaningful and consistent feedback loop between PE product developers and intended users. This ongoing communication will maximize the impact of project tools, resources, and learning across states. The collaborative inspired and informed the development of the PE web portal housed on that includes videos, presentations, infographics, podcasts, and more. was featured in a previous KT Casebook entry.


The ICI’s learning collaborative approach has been shown to be effective in enhancing communication and product use, encouraging problem-solving, and inspiring strategies for sustainability (Mitchell, 2014a, 2014b; Mitchell &Trivedi, 2014). As part of Scale-Up PE, as in previous projects, ICI has established a feedback loop with participating agencies to understand the value of the learning collaborative. One finding to emerge from this internal evaluation is that connecting with other agencies through the learning collaborative has enhanced agencies’ ability to implement and sustain the PE model. Additionally, while in-person meetings have been a vital part of the learning collaborative model in the past, Scale-Up PE has found that virtual interactions between agencies have been effective to foster knowledge exchange among VR agencies. Fostering this level of interaction between agencies in the PE Learning Collaborative has led to the creation of communities of practice as well as training and technical assistance initiatives that take a deeper dive into state-specific PE implementation and fidelity.


  • Mann, D., Stapleton, D., &Porter, A. (2018). Vermont’s progressive employment program: A preliminary impact analysis. Mathematica Policy Research.
  • Mitchell, D. (2014a). Learning collaborative between researchers and VR agencies. In Knowledge translation (KT) casebook (1st ed.). Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
  • Mitchell, D. (2014b). The learning collaborative model: An integrated KT approach to VR research [Paper presented]. Fall 2014 NCRE Conference, Arlington, VA.
  • Mitchell, D., &Trivedi, K. (2014). The learning collaborative model: An integrated knowledge translation approach to VR research.
  • Moore, D., Haines, K., Bradshaw, H., Porter, A., Smith, J., &Foley, S. (2018). Development of the Progressive Employment dual customer model for vocational rehabilitation. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 49, 149–160.
  • Moore, D., Haines, K., Foley, S., Kwan, N., Mitchell, D. (2018). Maine Division of Vocational Rehabilitation progressive employment model replication and evaluation report [Working paper, Version 1]. University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.
  • Robertson, B., Noyes, M., &Pan, X. (2019, October). Vermont creative workforce solution: Employer use and satisfaction survey. Presentation to the State of Vermont State Rehabilitation Council. Market Decisions Research.
  • Siwach, G., Yin, M., &de Milliano, M. (2021). Progressive employment and labor market outcomes of transition age youth with disabilities: A research brief. American Institutes for Research.
  • Williams, C. (2007). Transfer in context: Replication and adaptation in knowledge transfer relationships. Strategic Management Journal, 28(9), 867–889.
  • Yin, M., &Siwach, G. (2019, September). Maine work-based learning demonstration project: Preliminary findings. American Institutes for Research [Paper presentation]. 12th Annual Summit on Performance Management Excellence, Portland, ME.

Contact Information

NIDILRR Grant Name: Scale-Up Progressive Employment (PE): Promoting Implementation of a Tested Practice to Improve Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service Delivery and Outcomes
Organization: The Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston
Mailing Address: 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125-3300
Project PI: Kelly Haines,