Sir Michael Barber possesses unparalleled insight on what it takes to resolutely pursue systemic education reform. Barber started out as the chief adviser for education of then Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Seeing how successful he was in implementing reform, Blair asked him to create and lead the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit to extend implementation expertise toward reforming Britain’s health and transportation sectors. Barber later distilled his experience into a book called “Deliverology 101.” As he puts it, “Implementation is 90 percent everything. People really find it helpful to have the process spelled out.”
In town recently, Barber is currently the chief education adviser for Pearson, reputedly the world’s leading education company, “providing educational materials, technologies, assessments and related services to teachers and students of all ages.” In its website, Pearson says it is a leading provider of electronic learning programs and of test development, processing and scoring services to educational institutions, corporations and professional bodies around the world. It operates in more than 70 countries and publishes across the curriculum under a range of respected imprints including Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley, Allyn and Bacon, Benjamin Cummings and Longman, although it generates approximately 60 percent of its sales in North America.
Barber was here on the invitation of the Philippine Business for Education and Ayala Group of Companies to talk about “Transforming K-to-12 Systems in Emerging Countries,” which draws from his work in pursuing education reform initiatives for Pakistan, Malaysia and Brazil. He got the roomful of education stakeholders and reform advocates buzzing by presenting this equation: Well-Educated = education(K+T+L), where Knowledge, Thinking and Leadership are seen as education’s collaborative components.
He then outlined his innovation framework, which cross-references the characteristics of the entity involved in the innovation process (i.e., the individual, the team, the organization, and societal culture) with the goal, the way of working and ingredients of the innovation being pursued. Through this framework, he then derived the elements that drive education reform: standards and accountability, the human capital and structure and organization.
Barber noted that great education systems adhere to globally benchmarked standards on data and accountability, and that “every child is on the agenda.” He said these education systems recruit great people and train them well, allowing them to pursue continuous development of pedagogical skills and exercise great school leadership. The structure and organization of such education systems are characterized by effective central departments with the capacity to manage change and engage communities. Lastly—and this elicited approving nods from the Department of Education executives present—the operations budgets of these education systems are devolved to the school, he said.
Putting all that together, Barber then presented another equation: Whole System Reform + Systemic Innovation = Whole System Revolution. Interestingly, his thoughts on implementation seem to be inspired by a quote from Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson on the eve of the Battle of Copenhagen: “I am of the opinion that the boldest measures are the safest.” (Lord Nelson famously disobeyed Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, his commanding officer, who had ordered him to withdraw the British armada against the Danish-Norwegian fleet anchored off Copenhagen. Lord Nelson instead decided to attack, destroying most of the enemy ships.)
Clearly, Barber favors action because he believes—as practically everyone does—that the key to success is a 10:90 ratio between policy and implementation. Still, to temper hard-charging reform advocates, he has five key and maddeningly simple questions: What are you trying to do? How are you trying to do it? How, at any given moment, will you know you are on track? If you are not on track, what are you going to do about it? And finally: Can we help?
We at the Information Technology and Business Process Association (Ibpap) have been asking ourselves the same questions. During one of our meetings to plan and implement the Service Management Program for Higher Education Institutions in partnership with the Commission on Higher Education, executive committee chair Benedict C. Hernandez pointed out that because the project has so many moving parts, the work will easily become complicated. “It’s the discipline of project management that will keep it all together,” he said.
Similarly, Barber calls for writing out a delivery chain around each implementation target, “to sharpen and accelerate problem-solving around the barriers to delivery.” This can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but the idea is to be as thorough and rigorous as possible. The results speak for themselves: In Pakistan, significant and sustainable gains were made across the education system, from enrollment to attendance and to the ever-important teacher quality. (A simple Google search will yield more detailed facts and figures.)
The key lesson from Barber’s Deliverology is of greater interest to us. He emphasizes that “delivery is more than just a series of activities. It is fundamentally a state of mind. A culture of delivery within the delivery unit enables the culture to take root across the system.”
Butch Hernandez (email@example.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and the education lead for talent development at Ibpap.