Feb 23, 2022


Chris Brandt
Juan D’Brot
Lori Vandeborne
Ann Webber
gears and icons

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center offers the first of two blog posts on the development of an effective Networked Improvement Community, focused on building the team.

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center along with state leaders in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia has been working to develop and implement Networked Improvement Communities (NIC) to inform improvement initiatives with an organized approach. The NIC process can be a powerful approach for solving a problem of practice, introducing new initiatives, or revising currently existing practices in education. This blog provides an overview of Step 2 in the 8-step NIC process, initiating the NIC team. You may also access ready-made facilitator resources on the NIC website.

After identifying a problem of practice, the NIC leadership will establish a core team of educators, researchers, content experts, and context experts who will be responsible for launching and implementing the work of the network.

Who should be involved in the NIC, at what levels, and what responsibilities does each member fulfill?


In building the NIC teams to launch this effort, it is important to remember that a NIC is designed to promote improvement across three levels of learning:

  • LEVEL A: Individual learning as a person engages in their work (e.g., teacher)
  • LEVEL B: Organizational learning across individuals within a workplace (e.g., teacher teams)
  • LEVEL C: Cross-organizational learning as organizations learn from one another (e.g., schools or districts)

Cross-organizational learning rapidly increases when the individual and organizational levels are actively engaged.


Three levels of learning in a NIC

three levels of learning in a NIC

Organizing a NIC requires individuals to serve in several critical roles when addressing a problem of practice:

  • The network champion is the primary leader and key decision maker in the network’s improvement effort and provides strategic direction for the NIC. The champion identifies key staff to serve on the NIC’s leadership team and coordinates across agencies, participants, and stakeholders to build relevant expertise and participation. Though a NIC can have more than one champion–particularly when the project involves more than one agency– one person should have final decision-making authority.
  • The leadership team includes content experts, context experts, and research and data experts who collaborate with the network champion to develop the problem statement and guide the improvement effort.
    • Content Experts deeply understand the content area under investigation and have deep experiential knowledge to inform ongoing improvement efforts.
    • Context Experts deeply understand the organization of their state’s education system, the responsibilities of stakeholders in the system, how stakeholders interact with each other, and how they are both supported and challenged. They also know the political and personal landscape of the local context. They connect the NIC to resources, propose solutions to barriers, and provide guidance on how to sustain the NIC.
    • Research/Data Experts deeply understand data systems, including the universe of data collected, stored, and reported to ensure compliance and inform improvement efforts. They have procedural knowledge for gaining access to important data files, sharing data, and following security protocols (e.g., FERPA). They also have expertise necessary for developing a robust measurement infrastructure and for supporting data analysis and interpretation.

Leadership team members should also represent key stakeholder groups across all levels of the organizational system (e.g., classroom, school, district, and state) and partnering agencies.

  • The site-based leads, such as superintendents and principals, provide ground-level insight and implementation feedback to support the NIC improvement process. Site-based leads support recruitment, coordination, and communication with the site teams piloting new programs/strategies.
  • The supporting partners may include state agency leaders, university partners, industry partners, community services, and nonprofits
  • Frontline workers or end users implement school/classroom interventions, participate in data collection activities, and provide ongoing feedback about the intervention.

In our next blog, Diverse Teams are Critical to Accomplishing the NIC Objectives, we will discuss the importance of building a diverse team.

For more information and support, contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center.


NIC Initiation Team Role Descriptions



Engelbart, D. C. (1992, August). Toward High-Performance Organizations: A Strategic Role for Groupware.

Engelbart, D.C. (1994). Boosting Collective IQ: A Design for Dramatic Improvements in Productivity, Effectiveness, and Competitiveness. Booklet downloaded at https://ia600301.us.archive.org/2/items/boostingcollecti00drdo/boostingcollecti00drdo.pdf#page=3

Russell, J.L., Bryk, A.S., Dolle, J.R., Gomez, L.M., Lemahieu, P.G., and Grunow, A. (2017). A framework for the Initiation of Networked Improvement Communities. Teachers College Record, 119 (5), 1-36.

Bryk, A.S., Gomez, L.M., Grunow, A., and LeMahieu, P.G. (2015). Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.