Assessing Context, Learning from Leaders, and Changing the Rules: Implementation Support during the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 21, 2020

While activities related to assessing need and context are often framed as an exploration or early stage activity, stakeholders in public systems and community partners describe the need to assess context beyond these early stages of implementation. We recognize that context is ever changing, and implementation support must be responsive to the shifting needs and strengths of communities. 

In a conversation with Katie Burke, Senior Manager of Centre for Effective Services in Ireland, we talk about how assessing need and context is critical in a time of crisis.  We strive to:

  • meet communities and public systems where they are, 
  • support mitigating actions that can help service systems manage risk while performing mission critical work, and 
  • respond to changes in the system that affect implementation. 

Katie shared how staff at the Centre for Effective Services are currently supporting the Irish Health Service Executive (the national health and social care service) to roll out COVID-19 testing centers and implement community assessment centers related to the pandemic in their clinical roles. As Katie notes, “service systems don’t want to hear about planning…they don’t want to hear about capacity building….they need help doing.” Professionals providing implementation support need to adapt quickly in order to respond to crisis-driven needs in service systems. 

In our conversation, we also discussed the critical role we have in cultivating leadership. Katie noted that examples of leaders are emerging from all directions.  We see people stepping up to lead, and developing leaders are empowered in this crisis to make change happen. The context of the crisis has removed some of the barriers leaders may experience day-to-day as they try to support change. This is a reminder, though, that as we provide implementation support during this crisis and beyond, our role is to:

  • foster space for new leaders to emerge, 
  • support growing leaders to share responsibilities, and 
  • help leaders assess their roles and capacity within the system.  

These are some of the lessons we hope to carry forward in our implementation practice. Click here to listen to more of this conversation, including a reflection on the broad range of skills and competencies implementation support practitioners need in order to be responsive to the needs of communities and service systems in a changing world.

For more information on implementation practice, including skills and competencies for assessing need and context and cultivating leaders:

Allison Metz is Director of the National Implementation Research Network, Senior Research Scientist at FPG Child Development Institute, Research Professor at the School of Social Work, and Adjunct Professor at the School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Katie Burke is Senior Manager at Centre for Effective Services (CES) and oversees much of CES’s work supporting policy makers in Ireland.