Abstract: Districts have been under increasing pressure to use research in decision making for over thirty years. Because the process of finding, interpreting, and using data is so complex, districts sometimes turn to outside partners for support. Research-practice partnerships (RPPs), formal arrangements between school districts and researchers, have been seen as a promising strategy for improving district use of research since the formation of the Chicago Consortium on School Research thirty years ago. Much attention has been paid to the challenges facing these partnerships, such as a lack of trust between partners, and to conditions that support RPP success. Less is known, however, about how these partnerships are influenced by the contexts in which they are situated.The theory of institutional logics draws attention to the way in which key stakeholders in the environment of one research alliance, the District Research Consortium (DRC), gradually shifted their definition of effectiveness and legitimacy and in doing so placed demands on the organization that surpassed its capabilities. The DRC was created in an environment with a single, strongly prevalent “institutional logic,” that valued traditional forms of research and conventional roles for researchers. Major partners across the environment viewed the organization as legitimate so long as the prevailing logic, one that prioritized the types of work the DRC was created to do, remained the same. As the predominant logic shifted, the DRC faced increasing challenges and struggled to meet the stakeholders’ changing demands. Eventually this pressure forced DRC to undertake a significant restructuring process. The institutional environment, thus, plays a crucial role in both shaping the design of research alliances and determining their success. Differing expectations across the environment may call for such significantly different structures, practices, and expertise that a single organization will find it challenging to meet the demands placed on it, and attempts to do so will likely strain research organizations’ capacity and limited resources. Additionally, an organization that is well suited to one set of expectations may not be able to pivot to provide different support when those expectations change. As the institutional logics present in an environment change, a partnership once viewed as valuable may face challenges to its legitimacy and even threats to its ongoing existence. Funders, policy makers, and education leaders need to consider the variety of roles that research partners can play in the overall education sector, and the type of research organizations best suited to these variable roles.
Keywords: Institutional logic,Research practice partnerships,District Research Consortium, Stakeholder changing demands