Action research cycle two: National survey of distributed leadership practice

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The second action research cycle consisted of developing and implement a national survey of the use of distributed leadership. The aim of the national survey was to identify distributed leadership related systems and frameworks that are currently employed to build leadership capacity in learning and teaching across Australian higher education institutions. It was posited that the information collected from the survey could be helpful in developing an evidence-based benchmarking framework to evaluate the contribution of distributed leadership approaches to build leadership capacity in learning and teaching.  


The survey questions were developed from the dimensions, criteria, and actions required to enable distributed leadership identified in the Action Self Enabling Reflective Tool (ASERT). They were framed to identify respondent’s perceptions of the degree to which the criteria and actions had been demonstrated in a project. This online survey was conducted between May-August 2012. Potential participants were contacted via direct email and face to face at the Higher Education and Research and Development Society of Australasia annual conference. The survey was completed by 110 respondents, representing forty-seven Australian higher education institutions (both public and private institutions participated).


Ninety percent of respondents stated that they had used a distributed leadership approach in the project they were identifying for survey purpose. Detailed survey analysis was undertaken of these responses. The key findings were that respondents perceived:

  •  that there was significant involvement of a broad range of people and supportive processes (particularly the support of formal leadership and the establishment of opportunities for collaboration),
  •  fewer professional development opportunities was available and there was little evidence that resources, apart from finance, were provided. 

An analysis of twenty possible indicators of success for building leadership capacity was undertaken and it was found that the correlation with ‘increased engagement in learning and teaching’ was the strongest followed by building collaboration and sustaining collaboration.