Context and Implications Document for: Sustainable school‐improvement in complex adaptive systems: A scoping review

Gloria A. Koh, Helen Askell-Williams

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Authors’ Introduction
Poor sustainability of school-based improvement initiatives is an ongoing drain on resources and continues to be an important problem of translational research. Improvement initiatives are typically introduced to schools without accounting for the evolving, unique and contextual nature of schools. Successful initiatives are often measured through compliance to the initiative design (fidelity), validity to the scientific process and achievement of predetermined end goals. This reductionist linear approach limits understanding about how improvement initiatives can be sustained in schools, frequently leading to initiatives performing poorly in real world situations. As a result, in recent years, there has been increasing interest in education and health fields to consider sustainability of improvement initiatives as a dynamic, non-linear and emergent-led process using a complex adaptive systems (CAS) framework. Although some work has been undertaken to define sustainability and systems thinking, much of this work has remained at the conceptual level. Our paper furthers previous work by addressing key areas of sustainability of improvement initiatives in schools viewed as CAS, namely: definitions of sustainability and schools as CAS, the rationale for using a CAS framework, and the components and potential gaps in identifying components for sustainability that are essential for sustainable implementation in schools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-318
Number of pages4
JournalReview of Education
Issue number1
Early online date11 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • school‐improvement
  • adaptive systems
  • schools
  • education
  • complex adaptive systems framework
  • CAS
  • CAS framework


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