“As a district, we have three key strategic priorities: personalizing learning, engaging stakeholders, and eliminating achievement disparities. Innovation is at the core of all those.”
Executive Director of Personalized Learning at Eden Prairie School
In 2018, Eden Prairie Schools launched an innovation program known as “Eagle Voice” at its high school with a vision to create a culture of innovation. Over the past four years, Eden Prairie High School, home to 3,000 students, has grown its innovation program for staff and students. They’ve also learned a lot about what it takes to build an innovation culture.
When they first started, for instance, they used a crowdsourcing platform to collect ideas. However, the platform didn’t allow them to manage ideas past an innovation event. Additionally, all their innovation processes were manual, making it hard to track ideas and provide transparency.
We were frustrated with how to compare ideas, especially when they were in different categories,” said Robb Virgin, who was principal of Eden Prairie High School when the innovation program was launched. He is now Executive Director of Personalized Learning at Eden Prairie Schools, overseeing all the district’s innovation initiatives.
Kristin Daniels, CEO and founder of CatapultEd, who has consulted with Eden Prairie Schools on their innovation program since their launch in 2018, also recognized a need for a more robust platform. The school needed an innovation pipeline that would allow for checkpoints and phases, and provide greater transparency to the community regarding what ideas were being moved toward implementation and where they were in the process.
“One of the most common questions staff and students have is ‘whatever happened to the ideas that we all voted on,’” said Daniels.
She recommended the Brightidea platform to help eliminate manual processes, increase transparency, and improve the overall engagement and success of Eden Prairie High School’s innovation program.
More implementation and more transparency
Once Eden Prairie High School implemented the Brightidea platform, the management and oversight of their innovation program functioned better. Not only was the platform designed to be easy to use with Single Sign On (SSO) and a flexible design, but the moderation feature allowed school leaders to ensure ideas met the Student Handbook guidelines.
Virgin also noted that because of the Brightidea platform’s transparency, which allowed them to track all ideas submitted and who voted on what, he could bring in the people who wanted to change something and work on it with them.
One example was an idea submitted for feminine products in the bathroom. “Even though the project came in around seventh to ninth place, knowing that half of the school doesn’t identify as female and that it came in that high made Virgin realize its priority. “It was such a basic need we should be delivering on,” he said. “And if we didn’t have an event like this, how would we know about it?”
He also noted that the project was implemented very quickly because they had the data to show its importance. “I think there were 30 product dispensers implemented in about a month,” said Virgin.
Chips become the currency to fuel greater change
Another feature of the Brightidea platform that both Virgin and Daniels champion is the use of voting chips. Every student is given a specific number of chips, and they can place all those chips on a couple of ideas or spread them out across many.
For Virgin, seeing that a student put 30 of their 50 chips on a specific idea helped bring home the importance of that idea to those voting on it. “We had over 300 ideas, and I don’t think anyone voted for more than three or four ideas, which shows they’re pretty passionate about the ones they voted for,” said Virgin.
These data insights allowed Virgin to move some of those ideas forward. “To hear a month or two later that even though my idea wasn’t the top one, but the principal wants to meet with me about an idea I submitted was something to get excited about, it’s not something we were able to do in the previous system,” said Virgin.
Quick wins help win over student and staff
Another way the school and district have shown students and staff that they take innovation seriously is through quick wins or what Virgin calls, “do nows.” Virgin set the tone for these initiatives at the very first innovation event day. An idea was submitted to allow faculty and staff to get a “plus one” with their school badge to school events so they could bring a friend or spouse to an event.
The idea was easy to implement and low to no cost—and the school ran with it immediately. “Before the event was even over, we implemented it,” said Virgin. “Just to show people that if there’s an idea in there that is low cost or no cost and doesn’t rely on externalities, we’re going to do it.”
Daniels concurs that these types of “quick wins” are immensely impactful. “From my perspective, Eden Prairie High School has been so successful because they’re not afraid to dig down to the 20th idea that isn’t the most popular, but it’s a quick win. It’s a ‘do now.’ It’s easy. And that’s why they’ve moved so many ideas forward.”
“Eden Prairie High School has been so successful because they’re not afraid to dig down to the 20th idea that isn’t the most popular, but it’s a quick win.”
CEO and founder of CatapultEd
In the four years since Eden Prairie High School launched its innovation program, it has seen extremely positive engagement results. In the past year alone, the innovation program has had a 58% engagement rate that includes:
• 1,216 participants
• 372 ideas submitted
• 260 ideators
Equally exciting, the high school has been able to move forward a tremendous number of innovation projects:
• 81 total projects
• 44 new innovations during the 2021-2022 school year
• 30 projects implemented between 2018-2022
While these metrics show the positive impact of the innovation program at Eden Prairie High School, perhaps one of the most important results the school has seen is simply the overall empowerment the innovation program has given students.
“The biggest positive thing that makes students feel like they have a voice in that school is Eagle Voice,” said Virgin. “It’s not even close to all the other things we do with them. We have them sit on interview teams with us, propose new classes, they can start any club they want, and so forth, but the theme that they consistently share is that Eagle Voice is what empowers them and their voice.”
When Virgin asked why it’s so valuable, students told him that visibility and accessibility are what make it so empowering. “It really flattens power dynamics,” said Virgin. “We can say any kid can be on student council or our teacher interview teams, but when you show up in that space, the traditional power hierarchies and our identities start to come into play. On a website where everybody gets to submit ideas and everybody gets the same amount of chips, you don’t have the traditional power structure—your ideas matter.”