Implementation is not an event. Implementation is “a specified set of activities designed to put into practice an activity or program” (Fixen, Naoom, Blase, Friedman, & Wallace, 2005). These activities occur over time in stages that overlap and that are revisited as needed.
Implementation involves multiple decisions, actions, and corrections to change the structures and conditions necessary to implement and sustain new practices and programs successfully. The required decisions and actions are accomplished through a set of Implementation Stages.
Research shows achieving intended outcomes through implementing a well-constructed, well-defined, well-researched program can be expected to take 2 to 4 years The timeline for achieving outcomes (if at all) drastically increases for programs that are not well constructed or well defined. There is substantial agreement that planned change is a recursive process that happens in discernible stages. (Bierman et al., 2002; Fixsen, Blase, Timbers, & Wolf, 2001; Panzano & Roth, 2006; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1982; Solberg, Hroscikoski, Sperl-Hillen, O’Conner, & Crabtree, 2004). Conducting stage-appropriate implementation activities is necessary for successfully utilizing new practices and for organizations and systems to change to support new ways of work.
There are four functional Implementation Stages: Exploration, Installation, Initial Implementation, Full Implementation. Stages of implementation do not cleanly end as another begins. Instead, stages overlap with activities related to one stage still occurring as activities for the next stage begin. Likewise, it is often necessary to revisit previous stages when circumstances change (e.g., change in staff/leadership, data identifies an area where changes are required).
The following section describes each of the four stages in more detail.