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The Regional Educational Laboratory Program (REL): Technical Assistance

Fundamentally, the role of the REL is to work in such a way that the state and local education agencies in its region have notably more capacity to use research evidence to inform education decision making than they would have had without this support. RELs work to change attitudes, build skills, and increase knowledge of research evidence. In the context of the REL program, building capacity can be conceptualized as having three dimensions.

Building individual capacity. Staff members at state and local education organizations bring varying levels of experience, knowledge, and skills to education decision making. A critical role of the REL is to further enhance existing human capital in state and local education agencies, building from whatever the starting point is among agency partners. The logic of the REL program is that state and local education agency staff who are better able to access, understand, interpret, critique, generate, and apply data and research are essential to education improvement.

Building organizational capacity. State and local education agencies are more than collections of individuals, each with a specific set of capacities. Rather, agencies are complex systems with their own organizational routines and technical solutions. Building organizations’ capacity to use research may involve work such as development of tools, routines for collecting and analyzing data to answer research questions, and models for regularly evaluating the effects of policies and practices.

Building education research sector capacity. In the process of building individual and organizational capacity as described above, the REL can build the capacity of the education research sector by modeling reciprocal and productive researcher-practitioner partnerships; contributing to denser and more cost-effective dissemination networks, by co-sponsoring learning opportunities with professional organizations and other federally-funded entities; and modeling and advancing the effective communication of research findings.

The RELs do this work through training, coaching, and technical support (TCTS) for research use. A wide variety of activities and partnership models are designed intentionally to increase the capacity of individuals and/or organizations, and, when appropriate, the education research sector. The content of activities conducted within this area of work are carefully assessed against the research base. Further, unlike the “light touch” envisioned by dissemination, these activities imply more extensive, ongoing, or customized support to meet the needs of particular stakeholders. Examples of training, coaching, and technical support include but are not limited to: in-person or virtual consultation or training on research design, data collection or analysis, or approaches for selecting or adapting research-based interventions to new contexts; in-depth training or workshops on instructional approaches supported by rigorous research, including preparation of materials for these trainings or workshops; informal reviews of studies against WWC standards; acting as a thought partner when evaluating a program or initiative, and reference searches in response to questions submitted by stakeholders through the Ask-A-REL service.