Improvement Science

Improvement science is a systematic approach to testing high-impact practices in education. The First2 Network uses improvement science to test high-impact practices — “change ideas” — that improve retention of first-generation and other under-represented college students in STEM fields. First2 has developed a theory of change that identifies four primary drivers of success for these students. Institutional teams within the First2 Network plan, conduct, study and act on change ideas using a Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycle, then share their findings throughout the Network. 

Below find a series of PDSA resources and processes all First2 Campus Institutional Teams should follow. If we all work together we can accelerate progress on all of our campuses!


Step by Step Process for conducting PDSAs. Follow this guide to ensure that your PDSA aligns with the First2 Network Driver Diagram, and that you get the support you need along the way! Check out this handy flow chart!

PDSA Template. Make a copy and use this to document your PDSA. There may be specific templates for your change idea. Examples include: the campus club template, and the immersive experience template.

Shared Metrics. All PDSAs to the extent possible, should use the same metrics- surveys, institutional data etc, that First2 has identified. This will enable us to learn from each other, and generalize our learnings to inform the field of STEM education. We have compiled these into a handy spreadsheet for your reference!

What’s a PDSA and how do I get started? Watch this video! Here are the slides that go with it.

The Driver diagram describes our best “systems change” hypotheses for improving STEM student success.

Some PDSA Examples are here. You can find links to change ideas right in the Driver Diagram as well.


Overview of each part of a PDSA. These are short, instructive and to the point!

1.1 Plan Overview:

1.2 Do Overview:

1.3 Study Overview:

1.4 Act Overview:

How to complete each part of the PDSA Template

2.1 Plan Template Instructions

2.2 Do Template Instructions

2.3 Study Template Instructions

2.4 Act Template Instructions


Ready for the “Study” phase? Here is a Data Discussion Guide to help. Also check out this recorded training session with Debbie Shaver and Jared Boyce!