Framework 4: Implementation Teams

Implementation Teams leverage implementation science principles, to support the widespread use of evidence-based programs and practices.  Implementation Teams must also attend to equity at each step in the implementation process. 

An implementation teams diagram portrayed as four inter-connected blocks

Next, let’s look at Implementation Teams and expert implementation support. Historically, educational systems have not been successful in closing the research-to-practice gap when implementing evidence-based programs for children and families. Often administrators, teachers, or other staff are left to make use of research findings on their own. In some systems, implementation is supported by providing one-time training, manuals, or websites to “help” implementation happen in real-world settings.  Both approaches have been found to be insufficient for promoting the full and effective use of programs and practices. (Aladjem & Borman, 2006; Fairweather, Sanders & Tornatzky, 1974b; Glisson, 2007; Green, 2008; Greenhalgh et al., 2004; Joyce & Showers, 2002; Lynch et al., 2018; Rossi & Wright, 1984; Tornatsky et al., 1980)

Effective implementation is characterized by a team accountable for “making it happen.” In this approach, expert implementation teams play a role in actively supporting implementation of a new program or practices. There is evidence that creating Implementation Teams that intentionally work to implement programs and practices results in more efficient, higher-quality implementation. 

Implementation teams provide an internal support structure to move selected programs and practices through the stages of implementation. They also ensure that the implementation infrastructure, as detailed in the implementation drivers discussed earlier, is effectively used to support the programs and practices.  

Basic Functions of Implementation Teams include: 

  • Increasing collaboration and readiness 
  • Analyzing the strengths and needs of the organization 
  • Selecting innovations based on identified needs and root causes 
  • Installing and sustaining the implementation drivers (e.g., coaching, training, data systems)  
  • Assessing and reporting on fidelity, capacity, and outcomes 
  • Ensuring equity in implementation  
  • Utilizing system change best practices 
  • Building linkages with external stakeholders, and partners 
  • Problem-solving and promoting sustainability 

Too often programs and practices rely on just a champion or two. Champions can move on to new challenges and programs come and go with individuals.  An advantage of relying on implementation teams is that the team collectively has the knowledge, skills, abilities, and time to succeed and sustain the work. The team embodies the capacity needed to implement well and maintain and improve programs and practices over time and across the staff. 

Implementation teams build and work to sustain capacity to realize the goals identified through community collaboration. The teams should be diverse, and representative of the population served and the intended beneficiaries of the proposed changes. Team members should have the voice and power to make the needed recommendations.   

Ideal core competencies of an Implementation Team include the ability to: 

  • engage, collaborate, and build relationships with leadership and stakeholders 
  • build effective teams through development and management 
  • facilitate change through implementation training and coaching 
  • analyze data for informed decision making and to support complex change 
  • understand the components of the selected program or practice and the connection to outcomes 

Multiple implementation teams, purposefully linked across different levels of the system strengthen capacity, communication, and problem-solving in larger-scale change efforts. The functions of each team within a linked teaming structure need to be clearly defined and known to all other teams. 

One way to ensure effective collaboration across multiple teams is through the development of practice to policy feedback loops.  The development of these loops provides a specific pathway or channel for sending and receiving information and feedback, as well as lifting barriers, promoting solutions, and celebrating successes. Voices and diverse perspectives from the practice level (Practice Informed Policy) are heard and inform leaders so that they can ensure that policy, procedures, resources, etc. enable innovative practices to occur in classrooms, schools, and districts (Policy Enabled Practice) as intended.  For more information on Practice to Policy Feedback Loops visit Module 5: Improvement Cycles Topic 3: Practice to Policy Feedback Loops.

Activity 1.4
Getting started with Implementation Teams

So, how could you leverage the Implementation Teams framework in your work? Consider the following questions when creating teaming structures to support new programs and innovations. We encourage you to discuss these with your team and/or to write down your responses.

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