Doug Robers, who started out as a teacher, has worked in and with the US education system in a wide variety of roles over the years. Based on his accumulated experiences, he founded the Institute for Education Innovation in 2018, which he still manages as CEO.
In the podcast “School must go on,” Doug Roberts talks about the unique structures in the US education system, and the background and work of the Institute for Education Innovation.
– “We aim to bridge a gap in the conversations around innovation” –
Doug Roberts talks about two different groups: On the one hand the district leaders who are working hard to try to find the most creative and innovative solution to problems, and on the other hand, entrepreneurs and founders of organizations who are similarly working to provide creative and innovative solutions to challenges. “It can be hard for them to find each other, partially because our process of buying and selling in K12 is somewhat antiquated”, Doug explains. “So what if we create a robust and sort of level playing field, democratized ecosystem where any company or nonprofit or other organization, regardless of its size, experience, influence, investor backing or not, can have access to districts that are trying to solve the problem that they're working on.” It’s not necessarily about doing business, Doug says, it’s about learning what’s out there and then figuring out how you can improve what you are currently doing. “Overall it’s a community of people who are curious and engaged in trying to get better at what they do.”
– Building relationships instead of only doing business –
“You can't come to the Institute for Education Innovation and just think about profit”, Doug explains. “What you want to think about is growing your organization and growing your relationships.” The companies that do best, he says, come in with a focus on listening, on building relationships and on working the problem. “So, if you’re a solution in search of a problem, that’s going to be tough. If you know that there’s a problem and you're looking at the problem and trying to provide a solution to it, our members will see that, identify it and then try to work with you to figure out how you can solve the problem on the ground in their place.” Doug observed that in the end relationships are much more important than the business. “But if you go and build the relationships and listen and take the right approach, the business comes.”
– The importance of superintendents –
“We do have a unique thing here in the fact that our schools are governed by local boards of education who hire a superintendent who then runs a school system”, Doug says. He thinks the business acumen of these superintendents is not appreciated enough. “They see all the different angles to work in a district. They are running a hundreds-of-millions budget, and managing all the complex operations with thousands of people reporting to them. They have to be over these large bureaucracies, organizations and civil servants and we all kind of know what a school looks like.”, Doug emphasizes. “And it's the entrepreneurial aspect of superintendent work that we try to help people understand that it is a big part of their jobs.” So, the superintendent is the right place to start the conversation, Doug Roberts says, but also the hardest person to reach in the school district because of the massive operations they have to run. “But anything that's kind of enterprise level, you really need the district Leadership team on board, and that's where we help.”
Doug Roberts also talks about the procurement and purchasing process, the current state of tech, and past and future development.