Applied Education System Diagnostic Toolkit
A Practical Guide to Analyzing Root Causes of Education Challenges in a Complex World
Background: Understanding Complex Local Education Systems
Effective education programming begins with a deep understanding of context through active engagement with diverse, local perspectives. Development isn't linear; it is complex and influenced by a variety of interconnected actors (e.g., governments, civil society, the private sector, universities, families, learners, and others), policies and norms, resources, and processes.
Education and learning outcomes, in particular, are often representative of the convergence of an array of deeper, systemic factors. Traditional education sector assessments can fall short in capturing this complexity.
What is the USAID System Diagnostic Toolkit?
The Applied Education System Diagnostic Toolkit assists USAID mission staff and implementing partners to:
- Examine root causes of educational problems by analyzing the structural and behavioral root causes and their interaction
- Understand diverse perspectives by looking at similarities and differences in stakeholder perceptions of the problem and its causes
- Identify leverage points for addressing the problem
The toolkit equips the education development sector with practical, step-by-step guidance, supporting implementation materials, illustrative use cases, and general resource estimates for conducting system mapping to inform more localized program design, verify existing assumptions during project inception, and/or provide a mid-point assessment for the effectiveness of the implemented intervention to address the root causes of the problem. Each use case will be unique, so the toolkit is intended to provide overarching guidance and structure for inquiry to allow users to customize a diagnostic to their specific situation and context.
This toolkit is not a primer on systems thinking but rather a practical guide to assist practitioners who already have a level of familiarity with systems thinking and complexity-aware research/programming in applying those concepts to their work.
Why use it?
Conducting a systems diagnostic helps engage the perspectives of local actors in uncovering the hidden dynamics of local education systems in order to identify root causes of specific education issues and associated barriers and leverage points for change to inform program design that is better contextualized and more responsive to local needs.
The Applied Education System Diagnostic Toolkit can be used to conduct a quick scan over 3 to 6 months or integrated as part of a more intensive, systemic inquiry. The process and methods outlined in the toolkit are especially effective for analyzing development challenges such as:
- Problems with multiple, interconnected causes and diverse perspectives.
- Persistent problems with unsuccessful past attempts to address.
- Unfamiliar issues that require adaptable solutions
Benefits of Conducting a Systems Diagnostic Engaging in a system diagnostic early in the program cycle yields numerous advantages, including:
- Contextualize Programming: Tailor programs for specific contexts, ensuring relevance.
- Uncover Leverage Points: Identify impactful intervention opportunities not readily apparent.
- Predict Unintended Consequences: Anticipate positive or negative ripple effects of interventions.
- Recognize Barriers: Identify factors outside of control that influence change.
- Generate Stakeholder Buy-In: Garner support from key stakeholders throughout the ecosystem through problem identification and collaborative problem-solving.
The toolkit is being developed by USAID’s Supporting Holistic and Actionable Research in Education (SHARE) Activity - led by the University of Notre Dame -and will be widely available in March 2024.
Interested Missions, OUs and implementing partners should contact SHARE’s AOR Elena Walls (email@example.com) for questions and to inquire about available buy-in resources for conducting a systems diagnostic through SHARE.