Implementation Science

Sarah McKay recently provided an excellent introduction to Implementation Science in the  Carnegie Commons Blog. Excerpts of her piece appear below:

The aim of implementation science is to understand how interventions are adopted, implemented, and spread. It’s less about the effectiveness of the intervention itself, because that is expected to have been evaluated prior to implementation. This model does not have a set protocol that must be followed; rather, it provides an overarching philosophy and guidance on the responsibilities of participants and the general phases of work. The methodology is also built on partnerships that include stakeholders at K-12 schools, universities, and community organizations. Each group in these teams plays a role in ensuring that programs are implemented in a well-planned and carefully-studied way that considers variations among different contexts (classrooms, schools, or districts) and adapts interventions accordingly.

This model, by definition, attempts to solve problems that arise when implementing interventions (programs, tools, or processes designed to achieve better educational outcomes). These problems may include a lack of organizational capacity or resources, policy or process barriers that complicate implementation, or the failure of a successful intervention in one context to be effective when spread to other contexts.

The model specifies three categories of roles that need to be involved in implementation science partnerships, all of which are critical to improvement. Each of the three roles generally describes a group of stakeholders who work collaboratively to identify and carry out solutions, and all are responsible and accountable for the partnership’s success.

  • The synthesis and translation system (STS) synthesizes relevant scientific theories and evidence and translates them into coherent, user-friendly interventions.
  • The support system (SS) works with and builds capacity among the people who will be implementing the interventions.
  • The delivery system (DS) is made up of front-line practitioners that carry out the day-to-day operation of interventions.

This approach further outlines four general phases of work found necessary for quality implementation:

  1. initial considerations about the host context;
  2. creating an implementation structure;
  3. sustaining the structure during implementation; and
  4. improving future applications.

What makes the implementation science model different from other approaches to improvement is its focus on identifying local variabilities and other contextual factors that can impede successful applications of school change. As with other models, implementation science is collaborative, but unlike some other approaches, all members of a team, including university researchers, community partners, and local schools, are responsible and accountable for successful implementation of a program. Its strength is in its mechanisms and processes for gathering feedback from these partners to quickly identify and facilitate the necessary local adaptations to implement a program at scale.

For more, see: