Oslo GCES Project Launch


OECD/Norway Conference: Launch of the “Governing Complex Education Systems” Project






28-29 March 2011

Location: R 5 (Government Building 5)Akersgaten 59

Oslo, Norway


  • Explore which governance mechanisms and knowledge options facilitate effective steering of complex education systems.
  • Bring together an international group of senior policy makers and researchers to discuss these key issues.
  • Provide guidance to the OECD Secretariat on which issues are most relevant to the participating countries.
  • Contribute to defining the scope and direction of the project.



     Complexity in education systems is on the rise due to a number of intersecting trends. Parents in OECD countries have become more diverse, more individualistic and more highly educated. With more readily available evidence about school and student achievement, stakeholders have also become more demanding, pushing schools to cater to the individual needs of their children. Partly in response to this, governments in almost all OECD countries have increased school autonomy and stimulated demand sensitivity and sometimes competition. The combination of these new governance regimes with increasingly individualised, informed and demanding populations suggests that complexity and the importance of diverse local contexts can only be expected to increase.

     At the same time, ministries of education remain responsible for ensuring high quality, efficient, equitable and innovative education. This responsibility is reinforced by the increasing importance that is attached to education for building a strong knowledge economy and also by international comparisons such as PISA that increase the visibility of national performance. One of the crucial questions for OECD countries is, therefore, how to achieve national objectives for education systems under the condition of increasing complexity. The CERI Governing Complex Education Systems project focuses on this issue by targeting two key elements: governance mechanisms and knowledge options.

Governance mechanisms

     In many OECD countries, education ministries have been searching for governance models that allow them to effectively steer complex education systems. This search has led to numerous governance mechanisms, which are often applied simultaneously. For example, ministries act as regulators for education systems, setting the rules within which increasingly autonomous schools must operate. But ministries also act as top‑down enforcers of quality standards if schools consistently fail to meet these standards. Crucially, ministries are no longer the only actor involved in governing education systems. Apart from the increased role for schools themselves, there is also a host of other stakeholders (including buffer organisations, teacher unions, other ministries and national boards) that play a role. When it comes to national strategy setting, negotiation and dialogue are important governance mechanisms.

     The increased complexity of governance and systems is unavoidable and certainly not unique to education. However, it raises profound questions about the ways in which system-wide reform and transformation can be achieved in complex systems. How, for example, can reforms that require fundamental rethinking of entire education systems and the co‑ordinated efforts of many actors, such as introducing lifelong learning, be realised under the conditions of complexity?

Knowledge options

     Testing and assessment on national and international levels have led to an explosion in the kinds and types of evidence available to policy makers. Knowledge is also generated by professional experience and includes tacit knowledge transmitted informally within systems. For the policy maker charged with developing a response to a particular issue, it is often not fully clear what kinds of evidence are needed in order to address key policy issues – and in fact there may be multiple paths to a particular evidence-based solution. Previous CERI work on innovation provides a conceptual model for using the knowledge base to push policy and reform (OECD, 2009), but there are still many unanswered questions regarding the implementation of such a process and the actual choices of decision-makers in a time-pressed environment.

     Different topics and issues very likely require different strategies and combinations of these knowledge options, which of course also interact with the scope of proposed change, the contentiousness of the issue, and the strength of the knowledge base available. In this context, brokerage agencies (that is, agencies whose role is to strengthen the link between research and policy making) can play a key role to provide timely evidence and help weigh the various options available. How do decision-makers and professionals build their repertoire of actions and strategies given the knowledge options available? And how does this interact with other elements of complexity (governance, political and contextual climate)?

     We hope to address these and other questions in the course of OECD-Norway International Conference to launch the Governing Complex Education Systems project.

Keynote addresses

28 March             The Role of Research Mediators in Evidence-informed Policy Making
                           Judy Sebba, Professor Of Education, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex

Related working papers and publications

Markets in Education: An Analytical Review of Empirical Research on Market Mechanisms in Education (2010)

  •   Sietske Waslander, Cissy Pater and Maartje van der Weide

Evidence in Education: Linking Research and Policy (2007)

  •   Tracey Burns and Tom Schuller

Other interesting websites

CERI - Final Workshop for Evidence-based Policy Research in Education





Related Documents