The Progressive Employment Model Learning Collaborative: An Integrated Knowledge Translation Approach to Communication, Collaboration, and Cross-State Solutions

Progressive Employment for Individuals with Most Significant Disabilities
Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston
Submitted by DeBrittany Mitchell

Institute for Community Inclusion: Promoting the Inclusion of People with Disabilities


The Progressive Employment (PE) model is an employment strategy designed to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities. The Progressive Employment Learning Collaborative is led by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) and four participating state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies that are implementing the PE model. The collaborative is an integrated knowledge translation (KT) strategy. It aims to increase communication, enhance PE model replication, encourage problem-solving, and inspire strategies for sustainability.


In 2012, the ICI received funding from 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 Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Next, the model was studied and replicated in three state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies using a learning collaborative approach. Finally, the model’s impact on employment outcomes for people with disabilities was evaluated. As of 2019, more than 4,300 people with disabilities had received PE services from the Vermont DVR, the Oregon Commission for the Blind, the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, and the Nebraska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. In addition, the VR agencies in Oregon, Maine, and Nebraska have helped more than 500 of the 2,000 VR clients enrolled in PE obtain competitive, integrated employment. Many more open cases are expected to have successful outcomes (Moore, Haines, Foley, Kwan, & Mitchell, 2018a and 2018b).

Institute for Community Inclusion, UMass Boston

KT Activities

The PE model was created by the Vermont DVR 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 began to show 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 also helped VR agencies in Oregon, Maine, and Nebraska implement the model. Together, these VR agencies formed the PE model learning collaborative. As the PE model fidelity was researched, the learning collaborative helped inform KT efforts by outlining the necessary components to replicate the PE model. The learning collaborative identified implementation barriers and solutions and explored how to adapt the model in other VR agencies.

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 may vary due to different agency infrastructures. As new findings emerge, the learning collaborative provides a forum for ongoing communication between researchers studying the model’s fidelity and VR agency leaders implementing the model. It also provides the needed infrastructure to enhance collaboration between agencies implementing the model. The collaborative holds regular meetings, 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 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 implementation, 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 learning 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 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.

Maximizing Impact of Product Development. Because of its structure, the 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 integrates 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 learning collaborative ultimately helps to create a meaningful and consistent feedback loop between PE product developers and intended users. This will maximize the impact of project tools, resources, and learning across states. For examples of PE products including videos, presentations, infographics, podcasts, and more, visit:


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 and Trivedi, 2014; Mitchell, 2014 NARIC; Mitchell, KTDRR Casebook). As part of the PE model evaluation, recommendations from collaborative members were documented. Members provided feedback on the relevance and usefulness of each PE implementation tool developed. In addition, one measure of the effectiveness of the collaborative was the involvement of agencies throughout the entire project, from defining the research questions to developing and disseminating products. Participants in prior learning collaboratives reported that connections to peers were invaluable in sustaining agency initiatives and systems change. That has also been the case for the PE model learning collaborative. Although in-person meetings have been a vital part of the learning collaborative model in the past, virtual ways of engaging with end users will continue to be explored.


  • Mitchell, D (2014) The Learning Collaborative Model: An Integrated KT Approach to VR Research; NCRE-Fall2014 Conference; Arlington, VA (11/2014).
  • Mitchell, D. (2014). Learning Collaborative between Researchers and VR Agencies. Knowledge Translation (KT) Casebook, 1st Edition. Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Retrieved from
  • Mitchell, D., & Trivedi, K. (2014). The learning collaborative model: An integrated knowledge translation approach to VR research. Retrieved from:
  • Williams, Charles. “Transfer in Context: Replication and Adaptation in Knowledge Transfer Relationships.” Strategic Management Journal, vol. 28, no. 9, 2007, pp. 867–889. JSTOR,

Contact Information

Progressive Employment for Individuals with Most Significant Disabilities
Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125

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