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Research Questions

  1. How were the social labs designed and implemented to solve persistent problems of practice?
  2. What factors enabled or constrained implementation?
  3. To what extent did LCAust's Phase I activities lay the groundwork for systemic impact?

As labour markets change and global economies become increasingly interconnected, students require opportunities to develop skills and competencies that are essential for success and life. Success in young adulthood and beyond requires not only traditional academic and vocational skills and competencies but also what have been broadly categorised as '21st century skills', which include communication skills, leadership skills and critical-thinking skills.

Learning Creates Australia (LCAust) launched in 2020 with the objective of convening an alliance of people and organisations that could systematically reform the education system to ensure that all young Australians have opportunities to learn and develop the knowledge, skills and competencies that will enable them to become successful in school, find productive employment and actively engage in their communities. In this report, the authors evaluate 'The Learner's Journey', a social lab designed by LCAust to explore ways to assess and accredit learning that better reflect the diverse knowledge sets, skills and dispositions of students.

Social lab participants included educators, parents, students, and consultants focusing on design-thinking and prototyping; and representatives from youth-serving organisations, tertiary education and industry. The authors conducted 37 interviews and focus groups conducted with 13 lab participants and 45 other stakeholders and community members engaged in the work. These interviews and focus groups were supported with surveys administered to lab participants (85 unique respondents) and other members of the community (20 unique respondents). The findings of the evaluation highlight both the promise and challenges of LCAust's social lab approach.

Key Findings

  • The majority of survey respondents believed that social lab team members represented diverse lived experiences and had relevant research knowledge. The majority also agreed or strongly agreed that team members listened to each other, trusted each other and valued each other's experiences and expertise.
  • Young people were engaged in a variety of roles in the social labs; and members of the First Nations team noted that the overarching social lab methodology was consistent with, and allowed for, appropriate acknowledgement and centring of First Nations cultural values.
  • Respondents noted challenges in consistently attending all meetings and events, given their busy work, school and personal schedules.
  • Despite their apprehension regarding the loosely structured nature of the social lab process, respondents generally held positive views of the overall management of the labs.
  • Respondents showed strong support for the essential role of LCAust as a neutral convenor with strong policy connections and the ability to meaningfully engage a variety of stakeholders.
  • Participants believed that the current education ecosystem lacked enough active change-makers and a sense of urgency, which LCAust was helping to rectify.
  • Participants perceived that LCAust was responsive and adaptive to challenges that arose as the work of the labs progressed.
  • Regarding the prototypes developed as part of the labs, there was variation in the pace at which prototypes were developed and their perceived feasibility.
  • Respondents saw connections to state and, rarely, national, scaling of prototypes but also identified uncertainty and challenges in reaching these levels of scale.

Recommendations

  • LCAust should remain cognisant of tensions between self-determination and broad consideration of the interests of Indigenous young people.
  • LCAust should consider how to expand its engagement of young people to build a strong base of support for change.
  • LCAust should design future efforts to engage a larger set of communities and local actors to generate grassroots support.
  • LCAust should attend to those with conflicting perspectives and seek common ground and support if it wishes to play a larger policy role.
  • LCAust should engage in strategic planning to identify a clear, shared agenda and activities to support and advocate alongside grassroots engagement and development of innovative pragmatic approaches.
  • LCAust should consider functioning as an intermediary to more deeply address fragmentation in the system, its institutions and agencies, and its policies.
  • LCAust should identify which actors need to be involved to design, implement and scale prototypes, and at what times to help define the best-suited arrangement of activities and time commitment.
  • Future social lab designers should consider how to facilitate integration across teams at key points to ensure alignment of their work and/or define and align team aims more closely to a research-informed agenda.
  • Those seeking to utilise the social lab process to achieve systems change should consider the integration of research, engagement of key leaders (in this case, policymakers and industry leaders) and prototyping work.

This study was sponsored by Learning Creates Australia and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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