When it comes to technology, sometimes it makes sense to welcome the concept of strategic abandonment. This means providing permission to stop doing things that have proved ineffective or inefficient. It doesn’t matter if you’ve invested millions of dollars and tons of time. If it’s not serving children, let go.
This was one of the ideas that was discussed by a group of innovative district leaders who came together from around the country to explore important issues at the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. When it comes to technology there are numerous examples of this. There are also some ideas to minimize the need to do so.The most notable recent example of this was the iPad debacle in Los Angeles which brought down careers as well as negatively impacted the reputations of Apple and Pearson. On the other coast a few years earlier,New York City schools abandoned their Achievement Reporting & Innovation System due to extremely high cost and its limited functionality. Once the decision was made, just like that it was lights out for a system in which the city paid millions and spent tons of time on training staff and families.
While welcoming strategic abandonment was the right decision for each district, there are some ways to avoid such issues in the first place.
4 Ways to Avoid Strategic Abandonment
1. Remember the why
Explaining the “why” behind the decision to make these investments must be stated upfront and include a clear vision of what it looks like when it is working. You should be able to measure against the why as well. In L.A. it was so students could have access to interactive curriculum on devices. Not all that compelling, but a “why” nonetheless, however, the curriculum couldn’t be accessed effectively, which brings us to the way to avoid strategic abandonment.
2. Partners have skin in the game and penalties outlined upfront
There should be stipulations in the contract up front stating that what the vendor is promising will work and penalties if it does not. For example, in the case of Los Angeles, they could not get the curriculum to work on the devices. It was so bad that most schools just abandoned it. So Los Angeles went to court to seek a multi-million dollar refund from Apple and Pearson because they didn't live up to their promises. In New York City, ARIS did not have the functionality promised, but unlike in Los Angeles, IBM, the vendor was not held accountable for not delivering what was promised.
3. Test your product
In L.A. the curriculum was purchased without seeing a successful deployment elsewhere. That’s because it didn’t exist. Furthermore it only takes a little asking around of teachers using iPads to discover that device management is costly and quite difficult in comparison to Chromebooks.
4. Involve stakeholders
In both cases the school districts had not connected with key stakeholders around what they wanted. Doing so could have prevented the issue. That’s what they did in Denton Independent School District in Texas. They selected a device only after they surveyed, observed, and recorded video interviews of students discussing preferred devices. As a result they purchased Chromebook touch devices. They wanted the keyboard, touch screen, instant on, and long battery life that other options did not provide. Students knew they were a part of the decision which helped them own and have agency in their learning.
What do you think? Are there some initiatives where you work where you think it makes sense to welcome strategic abandonment? Were any of the strategies to avoid it part of the reason why it didn’t work out? Do you have a process in place to help ensure success?
Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.
Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.