How to Scale Evidence-Based Approaches: Four Insights from Rob Horner

March 22, 2024 | By Morgan Solender

Illustration of two people standing in front of map demonstrating scale

In the late 1980s, Rob Horner and George Sugai developed Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an evidence-based framework to improve and integrate all data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes. Since its development, PBIS has been implemented in over 26,000 schools worldwide and is credited with improving students’ social, emotional, and academic outcomes.

According to Horner, achieving scale is about thinking large-scale and systems-level from the start: begin with what a school district values, and then design around the critical features the district will need to adopt to support sustainable implementation of the product or program.

Here, we summarize Horner’s four key insights into successfully scaling an evidence-based approach.

Focus the innovation on a student outcome that districts value.

For a district to put resources into adopting an innovation, it must influence at least one critical student outcome. From the outset, consider the student outcomes that districts are held accountable for and focus on demonstrating how an innovation can impact one of those. This will allow you to describe your product in terms that are salient to districts and improve measures they care about.

Target district adoption for sustainable scaling.

For an innovation to produce sustainable effects, it must be adopted at the district level. District adoption requires more than just buying the materials; systemic changes must also occur. For developers, this means considering not only what teachers must change in the classroom, but changes in the way teachers are trained and teams are organized and changes in the ways building administrators and the district must operate to provide support.

Start with the assumption that the product will be adopted at scale.

Assume that 10,000 schools will adopt your product over five years. Such wide-scale adoption requires implementation in schools with users who are entirely unfamiliar with a product or with contexts that you may have not studied or considered. With this in mind, focus on better understanding the core features of the product or program that must be in place and what can be adapted to ensure success across different contexts.

Continue to assess fidelity and keep making the product easier to use.

After proving that a product is efficient and effective, continue to focus on what implementers are doing well, where the innovation works the best, and how to sustain use over time. Identify and build simple measures of fidelity that local education agencies can use for implementation monitoring on a regular basis and researchers can use as products continue to scale.

Hear more stories of scaling evidence-based education innovations here!

Tags: Adaptation Application Evidence-based Innovation Needs assessment Research & Developers