Comparing decision-making and implementation in the education system: a qualitative study

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University of New Brunswick


Research points out the importance of effective decision-making in education; however, there is a need to understand the link between decision-making and the implementation of decisions. This is a matter of educational importance because if a decision made is not implemented in the district or school, then the decision-making process is flawed. Or if the decision-making process is not flawed and the decision is still not implemented, then the question becomes whether those responsible to implement the decision are negligent. This qualitative research was designed to gather descriptions of people’s experiences and perspectives on the decision-making process across education levels and examine the link between the decision-making process to the implementation of the decision. The research participants consisted of formal educational leaders within the New Brunswick Department of Education, one Anglophone school district, and various types of schools within this district. The term formal was used to distinguish between teacher leaders who have no formal leadership roles and educational leaders with formal leadership roles and titles in the education system. Gathering information for this study incorporated a social constructivist approach combined with an interpretivist approach to qualitative research. The qualitative research methodology chosen was grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) using triangulation of data collection methods, which included individual and focus group interviews, document analyses, and personal notes. From all the data sources, five themes emerged relating decision-making and implementation of second-order educational changes: 1) Collaboration and communication, 2) Knowledge and skill, 3) Strong moral imperative, 4) Political and bureaucratic consideration, and 5) Balance of autonomy, accountability, and direction. As a result, a grounded theory emerged: For second-order educational change decisions to be implemented at the department, district, or school level, educational leaders must understand political and bureaucratic considerations and have a strong moral imperative. Furthermore, having knowledge and skill, ensuring collaboration and communication, and providing a balance of autonomy, accountability, and direction are crucial. The results incorporated current research, practical applications, and future trends to improve educational leadership for improvement. The study has supporting implications for departments of education, district leaders, school principals, and others beyond the educational community.