Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. John B. Nash


Collaborative inter-organizational networks can be effective at catalyzing and supporting the generation and diffusion of new models and practices. With shared purpose, structure, and resources, network organizations can facilitate knowledge exchange and the growth of inter-organizational relationships. In this study, I sought to better understand how network organizations influence social capital and the spread of innovative practices. Of particular interest were the roles of national network and sub-national network organizations (sub-networks), and the interactive learning processes of network newcomers. I focused on the diverse array of colleges and universities involved in the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), and their efforts to transform higher education practice and policy.

Specific research questions were tackled to understand: (a) the dimensions of key collaborative relationships (KCRs) and their associations to outcomes; (b) the competency-based education (CBE) ecosystem’s network structure, important clusters of network activity, and key individual and organizational actors; (c) the association between KCRs and the implementation of similar CBE practices; (d) the organizational and individual factors associated with the formation of inter-organizational KCRs; and, (e) the experiences of HEIs new-to-CBE as they learn about CBE, and then design and implement new programs. A mixed methods sequential explanatory research design was employed using social network analysis and qualitative case methods. Study data was drawn from multiple sources, to include the study CBE Social Network Survey (CBESNS), a confidential American Institutes for Research survey, and from 36 semi-structured interviews.

Results confirmed that strong ties and trust were important to tacit knowledge transfer and organizational innovation, and a strong correlation was found between inter-organizational collaborative work and trust. Immersive problem-solving programs were found effective for growing trust and strong relations among diverse stakeholders, along with advancing innovations in policy and practice. Lastly, a bifurcated learning process was seen for newcomers based on their potential affiliation to sub-network organizations, which connected them with impactful proximal influencers, among other benefits. Contributions to the literature are made with findings that have both theoretical and practical implications. They also anchor a research agenda for understanding how transformation can be enacted in complex systems and sectors through networks.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) as a partner researcher in the National Research Collaborative for Postsecondary Competency-Based Education/Learning. This included a $9,950 grant (funded by the Lumina Foundation), for the period 2019-2021.

This study was also supported via a 2020 National Academy of Education / Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. The award totaled $27,500 and was distributed between 2020 and 2021.