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The Messy Middle


In the last decade, HundrED has collaborated and learned from a diverse global community of innovators, educators, school leaders, and other stakeholders in over 100 countries. This paper begins to address questions from our research agenda, particularly those related to the complex process of innovation implementation at scale. We define the messy middle as the phase marked by complexity and uncertainty that occurs after an innovation has been tested and validated but before it has been institutionalised as part of standard practice in a classroom, school, or system. Following Rogers’ diffusion theory, we understand implementation asputting an innovation into use as part of multiple decision-making processes by teachers, schools, and organisations that move an innovation toward institutionalisation.

 We examine five diverse cases to delve into the complexities of the messy middle. These are (1) HundrED’s Tailor-Made collaboration with Helsinki EducationDivision in Finland, which introduced two wellbeing innovations from international contexts into the primary school curriculum (2) HundrED’s Tailor-Made collaboration with the Parents as Allies project in the U.S., led by the non-profit organisation Kidsburgh, that supports schools and families to co-design innovative solutions that promote family engagement (3) Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL), an approach to learning that groups students according to their learning levels rather than age or grade. We explore implementation in countries in sub-Saharan Africa by TaRL Africa (4) Geneva Global’s Speed School and Luminos Fund’s Second Chance, two accelerated learning programs, and whose implementation in Ethiopia is the focus of our case (5) Sapieduca, a classroom-level, gamified application in Brazil initially developed to increase student engagement. These cases reveal that the messy middle involves learning by doing in a sense-making process of understanding the who, why, what and how of an innovation in practice.

Learn more


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Publication Date
September 15, 2023
Green, Crystal and Lauren Ziegler
Cite this
Green, Crystal and Lauren Ziegler. The Messy Middle: Implementing Education Innovations at Scale. HundrED Research Report #032 Helsinki: HundrED, 2023.
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