The Experimentation Lab – Finnish schools and education government exploring complexity together

Even though the Finnish education system still ranks highly among international comparisons, it is under pressure to reinvent itself. The Innovation Centre based at the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) has carried out a year-long, facilitated process, The Experimentation Lab to support teachers, school leaders and local education administrators to co-create local solutions to address complex challenges and simultaneously inspire transformation in education governance.

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The Innovation Centre at the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) has launched a year-long, facilitated process, The Experimentation Lab to support teachers, school leaders and local education administrators to create space for experimentation and co-create local solutions to address challenges in education. Simultaneously it aims to transform educational governance and inspire cultural change to better respond to complex challenges in education.

The first iteration of the Lab, launched in the fall 2018, consists of a cohort of 12 teams from different municipalities across Finland. It is designed to tackle the need for a system-level change simultaneously from two perspectives:
1) build capacity (skills, competencies, mindsets) among teachers and school leaders to actively develop teaching and learning through experimenting, trialling and co-creating solutions at the local level,
2) explore, test and develop new approaches to enhance interaction, dialogue, and shared understanding between national level steering and local level implementation to better respond to the complexity of challenges in education.

The first participating 12 teams were selected among 70 initiatives that received government funding from EDUFI in a funding cycle modified to better enable experimentation. The teams work on a wide range of local challenges from developing approaches to foster pupils’ wellbeing or social emotional skills, to teaching digital capabilities through playful adventures, to leveraging AI to increase pupils’ physical activity.

The 12-month facilitated learning process has built-in scaffolds along the way, to help teams not only create better solutions to local challenges, but also serve as a powerful way to build the participants’ innovation capacities. The Lab was, therefore, designed with two simultaneous goals in mind: the aim was to create a longer term “community of practice” and on the other hand have a strong focus on practical development at a local contexts. The process started with an accelerator phase, where the teams learned to develop, prototype and experiment solutions. They deepened their understanding of the challenge they are working on, learned human-centred design approaches and gained courage and skills to test their ideas in practice. There were several “clinic” days with regular intervals throughout the programme. The clinics are a chance to share learnings with others, get expert advice, and engage in dialogue around important themes that affect all teams. Between the clinics the teams ran, evaluated, and collected evidence from experiments independently. As a part of the process a multiperspective, human-centred approach to evaluate the experiments was developed. It is applying both new forms of multi-party dialogue methods and software tools to facilitate participatory evaluation. Throughout the process, the Lab’s participants have been involved in co-creating the programme. Experts and leadership of EDUFI have been systematically engaged both to share their subject-matter expertise as well as to deepen their understanding of educators’ realities across Finland.

The Innovation Centre’s observations about unmet needs and tensions in their current education system have paved the way for creating the Experimentation Lab. Even though the Finnish education system still ranks highly among international comparisons, it is under pressure to reinvent itself. Designing of teaching and learning from the perspective of the learner, leveraging the potential of the digital age, and ensuring equity in education are crucial challenges in a world of growing complexity. Schools and municipalities find it difficult to live out the vision of learner centered and more skills-based 2016 national curriculum. The current support offered by EDUFI -- mainly training, professional development, and guidance through information -- seems to be insufficient. Fragmentation of the big picture, innovation trapped in pockets and the difficulty of spreading good practices coupled with rigid and heavy development project framework have created a need to find new approaches to national development and steering. A need for transformation in education governance is well understood but creating the open, dynamic and strategic governance systems necessary for governing complex systems is not easy. Through The Experimentation Lab experimental culture is used as a vehicle for improving the interaction and building feedback loops between national level steering and local level implementation.

One of the key learnings of the project is that collective learning does not happen by accident, you need tools and methods to facilitate it. The Experimentation Lab is the first national scale attempt in Finland to apply adaptive innovation in the rapidly changing operating environment of education sector. It brings together stakeholders from all levels of the system to learn by doing and focus on what is important.

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Year: 2018
Level of government: National/Federal government

Status:

  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

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