Fostering Collaborative Decision-making

Families, communities and districts are united in their interest in improving student outcomes. An essential element of this work is collaborative decision-making, an ongoing process built by and for families, students, communities and districts.  

Collaborative decision-making goes beyond traditional one-way feedback loops, in which districts do the thinking and planning and share with parent leaders for surface level feedback. Instead, true collaboration requires districts to ensure that family and community voices are not only heard, but also reflected in decisions that impact their children. At the same time, families and communities must also have opportunities to confirm that districts’ decisions reflect and honor their perspectives. 

Barriers to fostering collaborative decision-making

Parents – if they get organized – can exercise an incredible amount of power. Districts could really harness that in partnership, but it means to be a partner with someone. It means respecting that they’re going to want to have a say in what the agenda is. Researcher 

Creating the opportunities and processes to support collaborative decision-making is challenging for many districts. District leaders may not be accustomed to sharing power with families and community groups, and families and communities may lack key information and opportunities to actively engage. Here are some common barriers to collaborative decision-making:  

  • District leaders do not have experience or training in best practices for engaging with families and communities.  
  • Districts are unwilling or hesitant to share power with families.  
  • Families and communities do not believe that districts value their input and do not trust districts to include them in decisions.  
  • There are no accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that decisions reflect family and community needs and desires.  

Supporting evidence for fostering collaborative decision-making

Our research has found that there are key strategies districts can use to foster collaborative decision-making. Districts must commit the necessary time and resources to create opportunities for collaboration and honor the collective decisions made by coalitions of families, communities and education leaders. Below we provide strategies with aligned resources to create the conditions necessary to support FCC and improve student outcomes. For more research and resources, check out the Resource Library.


Examples, Tools and Strategies
Strategies Aligned Resources

Co-Create Goals 

When creating FCC goals, include multiple voices and perspectives to ensure goals embrace the value that all people bring.   

Our Student Voice Spotlight demonstrates how districts can empower students to participate in decision-making through training students in strategic planning practices and forming student advisory councils. 

Require active family/community participation in all decision-making 

Districts ensure families and communities are involved partners in all processes, including writing district strategic plans, making policy choices (e.g., establishing youth advisory councils), planning events, and establishing funding priorities. 

This Family Leadership Design Collaborative policy memo provides guidance on creating, implementing and sustaining a co-design plan. Check out the executive summary (pg. 4) featuring strategies for each part of the planning process (e.g., redesigning the hiring processes to get input from multiple stakeholders). 

Create task forces that give families specific roles in decision-making. Read district profiles from Cleveland Heights-University Heights and Moreno Valley Unified School District to see examples of how the districts created task forces and empowered members of the community to be active planning partners.

Appoint family/community representatives with voting power 

Include representatives from various groups (e.g., caregivers, community organizations) to serve on existing governing bodies and committees.  

This Basic LCAP, PSAC, and Elections Information Slideshow illustrates how Oakland Unified School district uses their Parent and Student Advisory Committee to advocate for the improvements and investments students need and provides insight into other areas for collaboration.  

Check out the Moreno Valley Unified School District Profile to see how this district created student and family leadership positions to ensure their voices are regularly heard and their concerns are addressed.  

Communicate openly  

To support ongoing collaboration, districts engage in both proactive and responsive communication.  

Read this Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) report that provides evidence-based and guidance for how districts and families can maintain ongoing relationships. Use the tips from the Strategies for Family-School Collaboration Equity (pg. 7) to support meaningful home-school communication. 

This Family Friendly Website Checklist supports districts in ensuring their online websites engage students, families, and community members while also complying with ADA standards.

Collaboratively define and measure outcomes 

Work with families and communities to co-design the definitions of success and strategies for measuring progress along the way. Invite families and CBOs to not only interpret data, but also design data collection instruments and plans. 

Read the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District profile on how staff collect and share data with families (p. 8).  

You can download the Panorama Education Family-School Relationships Survey to measure nine different aspects of FCC such as school climate and family efficacy.  

Continue learning

Browse resources on this topic in the resource library.