Organizational Change Networks (OCNs): A Framework for Systemic Reform in support of STEM Education

Adam Grimm
Michigan State University

Project Importance Improving undergraduate STEM education for all students remains an elusive goal, despite robust evidence on how to advance learning. In addition to advancing evidence-based classroom practices, effort is needed to establish the organizational structures as well as changing norms and cultures to be supportive of such efforts. Our research, funded by the NSF ( IUSE-grant 1725320), explores how Organizational Change Networks (OCNs) develop and function as levers to foster systemic change in undergraduate STEM education. OCNs are networks that connect organizations advancing change, specifically through focused work with units such as programs or departments..OCNs are being developed, supported, and used by funding agencies and change leaders nationwide. Our research-informed framework addresses the dearth of knowledge about OCNs’ key features, processes, outcomes, and impacts. Guiding QuestionsThe study probes key elements of OCNs: the developmental stages through which they progress; strategies used to accomplish their work; challenges that emerge and how they have been addressed; metrics they use to monitor their progress; and strategies to scale. The research focuses on six networks, each with an overarching purpose to reform undergraduate (STEM) education: The Advanced Technological Education Network; the Bay View Alliance; the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning; the Partnership for Undergraduate Life-Sciences Education; the Network of STEM Education Centers; and the Association of Undergraduate Education at Research Universities. Our study explores OCNs through a three-pronged approach that endeavors to understand the 1) Critical Considerations networks must grapple with 2) in a complex Reform Landscape, while 3) navigating various Lifecycle Stages. Key FindingsA key takeaway from our observation of OCNs is the interconnectedness among the elements in our framework. In other words, what networks grapple with as they pursue their missions (critical conversations) is contingent upon their environment (landscape) and time (lifecycle). The environment creates a context in which the ground is fertile for the emergence of OCNs; however, as OCNs respond to the environment, the context changes— bringing new opportunities and challenges for the network, thus, constituting a reciprocal, dynamic, and shifting relationship between the OCN and the landscape. Relatedly, a lifecycle approach has provided ideas for conceptualizing the issues OCNs experience as they develop from formation, through development and growth, toward maturity or transformation. Finally we grapple with a set of “Critical Considerations” weaving through the life of the OCN, but in different ways and with different levels of intensity across the network lifecycle. Considerations include: Purpose and Theory of Change (why and how a network seeks to contribute to STEM education reform); Leadership (the formal and informal processes guiding network impact); Membership (who is involved, why, and how); Governance (the processes through which decisions are made); and Funding and Sustainability (the resources to support and continue network functioning). Broader Impacts Our study of OCNs reveals mechanisms for systemic reform, by focusing on specific levers for change that influence broader organizational norms and cultures. Moreover, understanding how OCNs function alongside other similarly-situated cross-institutional collaborations helps change leaders to align and coordinate reform efforts.


Ann Austin, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI ; Susan Singer, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL