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Mind the GAP: The Importance of Paying Attention to Implementation Features

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

“Effective implementation is the missing link in human services.”

(Fixen, Blase, Van Dyke, 2019)

Has your organization ever enthusiastically, with urgency and passion, adopted a new innovation to improve outcomes, only to look back after a year or two and see only sporadic, spotty implementation of the innovation? Rest assured you are not alone and it is not a problem isolated to just education. We see the implementation gap in other critical fields as well.

We know what works, yet we continually fail to implement what we know will: save lives with timely medical interventions, change the trajectory for a child’s life by intervening early and effectively, bring clean water to an isolated village... we could go on and on with examples. There are evidence-based practices that are available to organizations to impact outcomes in all of these critical areas. The goal of adopting a new innovation or intervention is to see its full use in practice as designed- effective implementation. The problem does not lie in finding a researched, validated method that has an impact in a field. The problem lies in the implementation of the intervention.

Last month the IMPACT Learning and Leading Group attended and presented at the Global Implementation Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Leaders in education, health, social welfare, public policy, research and transformation gathered to engage and discuss latest insights and challenges in implementation practices, policy and research.

While at the conference, leaders engaged in sharing and celebrating successful implementation efforts on small and grand scales. We heard from such notable implementation leaders and practitioners such as Dr. Nhan Tran (World Health Organization), Dr. Dean Fixen ( Global Implementation Initiative), Terje Ogden PhD (Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development), Barbara Smith PhD (Morgridge College of Education University of Denver), Dr. Saima Hamid, Dr. Aasia Kayania (Pakistan Health Services Academy), Laura Ghiron MPH (ExpandNet) and many, many others.

Two critical themes resonated over the three days of learning:

  • many systems are not set up to scale their selected innovations or interventions

  • context and culture matter

So, with a great sense of urgency and an abundance of passion teams from all over the world began to share what is working and problem-solve about areas for improvement.

“Successful organizations understand the importance of implementation, not just strategy, and, moreover, recognize the crucial role of their people in this process.” Jeffrey Pfeffer

Throughout the sessions and plenary panels key recommendations emerged: context, culture and inclusion of practitioners matters in setting up systems to scale an innovation or intervention effectively. Some of the steps we can take to address these critical components in effective implementation efforts include the following:

  • Build vertically aligned implementation teams throughout the system to lead and support implementation efforts at every level of the organization

  • Provide ongoing and embedded high quality professional learning to teams and practitioners

  • Utilize feedback loops from practice field to policy: utilize practice-based evidence to inform and adjust the implementation efforts to meet the context and culture of the system and include the knowledge and expertise of practitioners on the front lines

  • Allocate resources (human and capital) for teams and practitioners to engage in rigorous coaching, collaboration and training to “skill up to scale up”

Effective, sustainable implementation incorporates context and culture to be a part of design and provides a strategic plan to incorporate feedback from the system it serves to adjust and refine to meet the promise of the innovation. IMPACT Learning and Leading Group’s IMPACT Framework addresses these important teaming and practitioner components. For more information and resources, check out the IMPACT Framework:

As leaders in implementation we will continue to focus and refine our efforts to support organizations in addressing these critical areas. Wouldn’t we all like to see our efforts at implementing an initiative to impact a cause we care deeply about reach its promise? At IMPACT Learning and Leading Group we want to End the Implementation Gap (please sign our pledge!)

Our next article will focus on leadership skills that help set up implementation teams that support staff members in building competence in adopting the new skills necessary to scale the innovation. The power of collectively building competence in new skills leads to confidence in the new skills they are adopting as they work to implement an innovation. Together we are better, this African proverb states it like this...

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

At IMPACT LLG we adapted the proverb,

Go fast to go alone,

go slow- to go together,

go together- to go far.

Invest in your teaming strategies and you will see your implementation efforts begin to scale. Contact us for support!

Jenice Pizzuto

IMPACT Learning and Leading Group



Fixen D. L., Blase K. A., and Dyke M .K., (2019.) Implementation Practice and Science. Chapel Hill, NC: Active Implementation Research Network

Pfeffer J. (1998). “The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First”, p.16, Harvard Business Press


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