Scaling Implementation Capacity

How can governments actively promote systems change and assess the effects of change on a large scale?  The answer may lie in a logic model informed by implementation science and characterized by the multi-component, multi-level supports that interact with one another in endless combinations (Huang, Drewnowski, Kumanyika, & Glass, 2009; Panzano et al., 2004; Weiner, 2009).  In a cascading logic model, each independent variable (input) is a dependent variable (output) at the next level.  Root cause analyses encourage asking why five times (Ohno, 1988) to get at the underlying reasons for successes, accidents, and failures.  Implementation science encourages asking how five times ( to plan for the SEA, Regional, and District capacity needed to achieve the promised outcomes of an evidence-based program.  The cascading logic model posits a series of components that define an infrastructure for effective statewide implementation of effective innovations. 

In an education context, how can effective innovations lead to significant changes in education and educational outcomes at scale?  Improving education in 58 federal jurisdictions and about 15,000 districts and 90,000 schools is a massive and complex undertaking where about 6 million teachers and staff provide education to over 55 million students each day.  Students can only benefit from effective innovations they experience in their education settings.  This means teachers have to use those innovations with fidelity and good outcomes in each classroom.  What can a State do to create the capacity to impact all the students in all the schools in the State?  The table below outlines an approach.

Cascading Logic Model (Ask “How” Five Times)

Input/ How

 Desired Output

  1. How will students benefit? Teachers’ consistent use of effective innovations with high fidelity to the innovation-as-intended

Improved student outcomes in academics and behavior (the ultimate goal)

  1. How will teachers be supported? District and school implementation teams  support teachers’ using innovations effectively

Teachers’ consistent use of effective innovations with high fidelity to the innovation-as-intended

  1. How will District and school implementation teams be developed & supported? There are Regional supports for developing and sustaining district implementation teams

Effective district and school implementation teams are created to support teachers’ using innovations effectively

  1. How will Regional supports be developed to support District and school implementation teams? State Transformation Specialists and State Capacity Building Workgroups develop and sustain  regional implementation teams

Regional supports are created for developing and sustaining district implementation teams who support building level teams.

  1. How will State Transformation Specialists and the State Capacity Building Workgroup be developed? The new Content Center and RCC TA support the development of  state infrastructures for implementation and facilitate  system change needed to expand and sustain capacity in States, regions, districts, and schools

Skills and abilities of State Transformation Specialists and State Capacity Building Workgroups are developed for creating and sustaining regional implementation teams


Asking how five times focuses attention on operationalizing the process of establishing new practices in existing systems.  Thus, capacity development is not just a label or a big idea fleshed out with interesting examples.  Capacity development is a specific set of competencies embedded in State and federal education systems to support the achievement of desired outcomes.  Capacity is the ability to do what is needed to produce intended outcomes reliably, from one teacher to the next, one school to the next, one district to the next, one State to the next, and one year to the next. 

The logic behind building state implementation capacity has significant implications for system change in human services.  Health, education, and social service systems in the United States are large, complex, and full of policies, practices, rituals, and beliefs that can overwhelm efforts for change on a significant scale.  It will take a persistent and consistent effort to bring about change and improve benefits to recipients.  The cascading logic model makes clear the linkages between and among levels of the system, and points to the essential functions derived from implementation science as each level helps to create, sustain, and improve better outcomes at the next level.  It is no longer realistic to make changes in policy, establish measures of outcomes, and expect a miracle to somehow tie one to the other.  The cascading logic model shifts accountability from one level to the next and provides assessments of the impact of each level on the next.

Kenneth Arrow (1996), who won a Nobel Prize in 1972 for describing the tenets of an information-based economy, states that knowledge-based resources increase in value with use, unlike atom-based resources that are depleted with use.  The knowledge base for implementation can prime the pump of change in human service systems, and grow stronger as members of Implementation Teams and executive management teams learn and use those methods for years to come.  Researchers working on behalf of the World Bank in resource-poor countries called these situations “virtuous circles” that, once started, feed themselves (Fox & Gershman, 2000; Putnam, 1993). 

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