The research design can be described as a mixed-methods design. Case studies are used to explore different forms of quality management systems as part of local school governing processes. To depict some of the variation of approaches and methods used by the municipalities, the cases are selected according to the principles of maximum diversity (Yin 2009). This means that four case municipalities were selected on the basis of representing diverse practices related to quality management, the use of data to improve as well as forms of accountability involved. In each municipality three case schools were selected. The case studies include analysis of documents describing the municipal quality management systems and school evaluation procedures, as well as school development plans. Interviews with four Chief Executive Officers and12 principals were conducted. Moreover, as part of the research project Visible feedback (Vifee) the data material also includes 16 group interviews with teachers and 24 group interviews with students.

The results of the case studies are used to develop a conceptual model to understand different forms of quality management at the municipal and the school level as well as contextual factors that influence on the approaches, methods and routines in use. The findings from the case studies are used to formulate theoretical assumptions and hypotheses, and to develop the quantitative surveys. Two questionnaires are developed; one directed towards the principals in primary and lower secondary schools and one directed towards representatives at the municipal level. The questionnaire for the principals includes a set of core questions about school improvement which can be used for comparison with the ISI-TL project. Results from national tests in the selected municipalities will be included in the data set. Analytic techniques such as latent variable analysis and multilevel analysis are used to analyse the data.