Applying ethnography to scale social change
Founded on the belief that education is every child's birthright, Bridge International Academies is a global chain of private schools dedicated to making the highest quality education available to children everywhere. By developing a technology-driven approach to teaching and classroom management, Bridge delivers the same exceptional education to every child, in every classroom. Each day, Bridge reaches over 100,000 children in emerging communities across Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, and India.
My work for Bridge focused on customer experience strategy, with an emphasis on launching in Liberia.
As the Associate Director of Global Customer Strategy, I designed and executed ethnographic research in Liberia, in order to help Bridge and the Government of Liberia launch a public-private partnership of 25 new Bridge Academies throughout the country. I did this work in partnership with Jennifer Giroux, then a consultant at ReD Associates, and now Vice President and Head of Global Insights & Strategy at Bridge.
The initiative presented an opportunity to go beyond ensuring more children learning in classrooms. The opportunity to transform ineffective schools into schools that embody what all public schools in Liberia should (and can) become - powerful places of learning that provide parents, pupils, and teachers a stable, supportive environment they can trust, and opportunities and resources to help them reach their potential.
But change is rarely easy.
To build a powerful engagement strategy for launch, our team spent three weeks (April-May 2016) in eight different communities in Liberia. Immersed into daily life, we spent time with parents, educators, and local leaders in order to uncover meaningful insights.
- – Contextual inquiry
- – Expert interviews
- – Quantitative surveys using local researchers
- – Focus groups
- – Inquiry into social science best practices on social change research
The research team from Bridge was just Jennifer and me. We hired and trained a team of four Liberian research assistants for the project.
You can see the amount of work that went into our research agenda before we stepped foot in Liberia.
Through our fieldwork, we came away with some key research findings.
- Public schools tend to be places of powerlessness, where educators, parents, community leaders, and students are constantly disappointed and frustrated with the state of their school.
- Public school educators (whether teachers or administrators) often feel like strangers in their communities and are constantly in search for respect. Hungry to be celebrated, appreciated and admired in their communities.
- Parents who send their kids to public schools often feel a sense of failure.They constantly wish that they could send their kids to a private school – a place they perceive as one that provides a system of learning they can trust.
- In unstructured learning environments, students struggle to see the reason for staying in class. Children often leave school grounds the first opportunity they get, which is usually well before the school day ends.
We translated our findings into an engagement strategy. Details are confidential and not included here.
Press + Impact
The new Bridge schools in Liberia have had promising results. The Ministry of Education recently gave Bridge an 'A' rating on the basis of 'significant quality of implementation' and agreed to open 43 additional schools in the second year of the pilot, for a total of 68 Bridge schools operating in Liberia.