What Are Education Innovation Clusters, and What Were They Up To in 2017? - Digital Promise

What Are Education Innovation Clusters, and What Were They Up To in 2017?

December 13, 2017 | By

It has been an eventful year for Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters). EdClusters are tackling new projects and building new partnerships. They are designing solutions to local challenges and sharing them across regions. They are piloting new tools and evaluating their impact. At Digital Promise, we’ve supported this powerful network of EdClusters in several ways — from working groups to research designs to convenings.

What are EdClusters?

To really take stock of EdClusters in 2017, we first need to revisit the foundation and origin of Education Innovation Clusters — what they are, how they work, and how they are progressing. We put together this explainer video to help answer these questions:

As the video explains, EdClusters are local ecosystems that bring together educators, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other community stakeholders to design, validate, and share promising learning tools and practices. More than 20 regions around the country are engaging in this work and seeing the rewards of local collaboration. But they’ve also been connecting across regions and with us as part of a growing national EdClusters network. So what have we been up to?

Research Design Project

In 2017, we initiated a research project with seven EdClusters and key research partners. They each developed a research design for their cluster with: research questions they have about their networks, programming, and impacts; methods they might employ to investigate those questions; and ideas of how this would inform their work and continuous improvement. Collectively, those research designs formed the basis for a shared research agenda for all EdClusters, to be released in January 2018. In the meantime, you can read more about the project here and here.

Working Groups: Asset Mapping and Equity

In order to build effective ecosystems, EdClusters need to leverage a range of partners and assets — through equitable, inclusive collaborations. EdCluster stakeholders from across the country engaged each other in discussions on these topics through two working groups on Asset Mapping and on Equity. Participants also developed two tools that regions have piloted in beta form over the past few months, and which will be refined and released more broadly in 2018.

The Asset Mapping tool walks through use-cases, methods, criteria, and data-gathering processes for developing a map of assets, events, opportunities, and partners in an EdCluster region.

The Equity working group designed and curated two related tools — an Equity Audit and an Equity Programming and Event Planning Guide. The audit helps EdClusters gauge how well diversity, equity, and inclusion are represented in their staff and network leadership. The guide serves as a checklist for helping EdClusters ensure they are engaging and serving all (especially historically underrepresented) stakeholders in their work.

You can read more about how EdClusters are advancing and reflecting on equity here.


Both of these working groups grew out of a breakfast we hosted at SXSWedu in March 2017, during which EdClusters workshopped different needs and how they might tackle them. The following months’ work culminated in the #EdClusters17 Convening at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City this September. (You can read a summary of highlights from the convening here.)

#EdClusters17 also set the stage for the next year of work with Education Innovation Clusters. Here’s what we’ve got planned: deeper dives on research; a new cohort for social network analysis; mentoring fellowships; new tools and practices to scale across regions; and revised playbooks for asset-mapping and equity. Over the course of the next year, we’ll document and share this work, as well as the stories of EdClusters around the country. So stay tuned and keep in touch!

Sign up to get updates on #EdClusters18 and other clusters work here.

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