Understanding Networks for Innovation in Policy and Practice


Download article (.pdf) | By David Hopkins | Published in Networks of Innovation, OECD/CERI, 2003


David Hopkins' conclusions as rapporteur of the 2000 international Portugal seminar on networking were based especially on the experience of the following five major networks:

  • The Portuguese Good Hope Programme (a nation-wide program established by the Ministry of Education in Portugal in March 1998. It contrasts with the traditional pattern of centralisation by encouraging autonomy and experimentation);
  • The Durham District School Board and The Learning Consortium, Ontario, Canada (a school/university partnership founded in 1988 among four school districts to restructure local school districts and upgrade teacher skills);
  • The German Network of Innovative Schools (NIS) established by the Bertelsmann Foundation (a network begun in 1998 to facilitate knowledge transfer among 460 schools. It is a model of a “public/private partnership” that could be influential in future networking arrangements);
  • Improving the Quality of Education for All (IQEA), England and beyond (started in 1990, 200 schools have been involved in this programme to improve conditions for teaching and learning);
  • The European Observatory on School Innovation, co-ordinated from France's Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (INRP) with participating EU countries (established in 1994-95 to facilitate the creation of information networks to help resolve educational issues relating to national policies and European Union priorities).


He identifies the following key conditions for effective education networking:

  • Consistency of values and focus;
  • Clarity of structure;
  • Knowledge creation, utilisation and transfer;
  • Rewards related to learning;
  • Dispersed leadership and empowerment; and
  • Adequate resources.


Networks work based on an investment in people and relationships, not structures and hierarchies. Although different networks will have a different configuration of stakeholders, it is important to identify the network’s stakeholders:

  • Innovative teachers, principals and schools;
  • Network initiators;
  • Network managers;
  • Consultants/trainers;
  • Evaluators and researchers; and
  • Policy-makers.


The article includes a discussion of the role of governments and policy. As Hopkins states, “Despite the dramatic increase in educational reform efforts in most OECD countries over the past decade, their impact on levels of student achievement has not been as impressive as had been hoped… This provides a strong argument for governments to embrace networks not only to assist in the implementation of their reform agendas, but also as an innovation in its own right.”


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