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Center Ideas: 8 Steps to Support Continuous Policy Improvement in Rural Districts

Many of the Region 5 Comprehensive Center’s (R5CC’s) districts qualify as rural. What does that mean? Generally, rural districts are further from cities, have smaller populations, and thus have fewer resources. Despite less resources, they still need to accomplish the same gains, goals, and opportunities as their urban counterparts, requiring policy that addresses and supports their unique needs.


R5CC created an infographic, Supporting Continuous Policy Improvement in Rural Districts, with an eight-step guide, to help other Regional Centers and technical assistance providers improve policies and practices and contribute to continuous improvement efforts in rural districts.


Here are some expanded insights into the eight steps based on R5CC experiences:

1. Define the challenge leaders want to focus on

Be specific about what high-leverage issue the state will address and outline why state leaders want to address it, who will be involved, and the timeline for making the changes.


2. Understand conflicting factors

Consider conflicting factors that can take on many forms. Think about staff changeover as well as economic development that may impact policy plans or interrupt the process.


3. Build trust, be transparent, and use plain language

Build trust within the community. Trust is instrumental in accomplishing meaningful work and comes from transparency and plain language (avoiding jargon). When working with students, for example, gain consent from parents and let them know what is being discussed and what is involved.


4. Remove barriers to participation

Be mindful of schedules, transportation, and meeting locations. These logistics can be especially important and tricky in rural districts where people are more spread out. 


5. Use contextually and culturally sensitive instruments

Consider the appropriateness of language used in documents and consult with experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion if necessary. 


6. Highlight recommendations and next steps

Summarize key takeaways that make the products and resources you develop more digestible for state leaders and provide talking points they can share broadly. It is also helpful for state leaders to have ideas for action steps they can take to expand on or sustain the work conducted.


7. Review findings with constituents 

Disseminate information about state, district, or school policies or practices to all relevant interest groups, such as district leaders, school staff, and parents, in ways that are easy to interpret and understand. 


8. Use data to keep improving

Encourage state and local leaders to make data-driven decisions to be confident that changes planned and implemented are based on evidence of best or promising practices. It is also helpful to develop a schedule outlining the frequency that data will be collected and reviewed and to develop methods for continuously monitoring the quality of data collected and analyzed. The R5CC team created a Data Dashboard to help with this process.


These eight steps may repeat a few times during the pursuit of quality and effective policymaking. Check out the process map to see the full flow and to access other rural-related resources.