Leadership changes within an organization provide opportunities to assess, reflect, and act. It is a time of excitement but also a time that can bring anxiety. NIRN’s leadership change is also occurring as we are faced with significant life-changing events in human services with the ongoing pandemic, social justice needs, and the high staff turnover rates at all levels of our various systems. The disruptions to our human service systems, though, can also be a time to identify and leverage opportunities. As NIRN’s newest leader, I would like to share a summary of our accomplishments, reflections on opportunities for growth and improvement, and initial plans for action.
When first arriving at NIRN, I was introduced as the new “NIRNian.” To be completely honest, the first image that came to mind was a person in a spacesuit exploring the great frontier of space. However, I quickly came to learn and respect the values of what it meant to be a NIRNian and part of the National Implementation Research Network. Thus, I present our reflections and plan for action by our team’s name, the holder of our identity.
NIRN continues to work across a broad range of human services. We have applied, iterated, and studied how different implementation practices, tools, and measures work within and translate across the various sectors of mental health, early childhood, K-12 education, child welfare, juvenile justice, maternal and child health, and health services. Evidence of this can be seen in various ways. For example, references to NIRN’s approaches to implementation and contributions to the field of implementation science are increasingly seen in requests for proposals from federal, state, and local agencies and other philanthropic organizations. However, we need to continue to maintain and grow our inter-disciplinary work and partnerships. In the future, NIRN will be organized by portfolios of projects within disciplines, with a designated lead for each portfolio. Organization into portfolios by discipline area will cultivate leadership within the NIRN team, ensure implementation science expertise and system and content expertise within the portfolio, and promote growth and partnerships.
NIRN has established a series of implementation practices, tools, and measures organized within the Active Implementation Frameworks (Fixsen & Blase, 2020). Most importantly, NIRN has demonstrated an impact for our beneficiaries. Excellent illustrations of this can be seen in three examples:
- Work supported by our Minnesota colleagues leads to improved high school graduation rates for Black and Native American adolescents (Kloos et al., 2021).
- Our team member, Kathleen Ryan Jackson, supports Kentucky state, regional, and local education agencies that improve mathematics academic outcomes for students with disabilities and Black students (Ryan Jackson, Smolkowski, et al., 2021).
- Our former NIRN leader, Allison Metz, and colleague, Leah Bartley, supported implementation of evidence-based child welfare practice models in New York City, with preliminary data showing higher achievement of case goals, increased collaboration between service providers, and a decrease in the number of child welfare investigations for families receiving high-risk family services (Clara et al., 2017).
Through our various collaborations and research, we have identified and continued to refine the competencies needed to engage in effective implementation practice as well as to build the capacity of others to use implementation methods and tools. More recently, we have attended to how we are centering equity within our implementation work and contributing to the dismantling of systemic racism. We will continue to refine and enhance our implementation practice with equity centered in our work so that we can continue to achieve equitable outcomes for the populations we serve.
NIRN continues to conduct and support various program and developmental evaluations of implementation. Various projects have yielded data and information regarding the theories of action and hypotheses, such as the relationship between an implementation infrastructure and fidelity in use of the practice being supported (Metz et al., 2014). In addition, our various tools have undergone research to establish their psychometric properties, such as the District Capacity Assessment (Ward et al., 2021). However, our implementation practice and tools are at a point of readiness for more rigorous research designs and statistical methods to examine implementation and answer learning questions such as, “How, and how much did implementation affect intended outcomes? In what contexts and for whom?” As a first step to co-designing a formal research agenda to continue our scientific contributions, we are recruiting an implementation scientist with deep expertise in implementation research designs and statistics.
Implementation and systemic change are about changing the hearts, minds, and actions of all those involved and impacted. The work starts and is founded on relationships. Key to our co-learning and generation of knowledge are the relationships we establish within our team as well as with our partners through our network. A key strength of NIRN is the Network that has been established and continued to be fostered through various collaborative efforts such as the Global Implementation Conference and Society and the Implementation Science Institute at UNC. We will continue to grow and strengthen our network through these opportunities and others. We have renewed and dedicated human and financial resources to cultivating our social networks and communication efforts. We also remain committed to diversifying our team through strategic recruitments and partnerships.
I am honored and privileged to be leading the next iteration of the National Implementation Research Network, or version 3.0. We are committed as a team to maintaining our focus on producing equitable outcomes for the children, families, and communities we serve, strengthening our implementation practices, conducting and contributing to rigorous science, and growing our network for innovation.
Fixsen, D. & Blase, K. (2020). Active Implementation Frameworks. In P. Nilsen & S. Birkens (Eds), Handbook on Implementation Science. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Clara, F., Garcia, K., & Metz, A. (2017). Implementing evidence-based child welfare: The New York City experience. Casey Family Programs and the National Implementation Research Network at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, UNC-Chapel Hill. https://nirn.fpg.unc.edu/resources/implementing-evidence-based-child-wel...
Metz, A., Bartley, L., Ball, H., Wilson, D., Naoom, S., & Redmond, P. (2014). Active Implementation Frameworks (AIF) for Successful Service Delivery: Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project. Research on Social Work Practice, 25(4), 415–422. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731514543667
Ryan Jackson, K., Smolkowski, K., Gau., J. & Ward, C., (2021). Improved mathematics outcomes using active implementation: Kentucky’s effective and durable change [Brief]. National Implementation Research Network, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ward, C. Harms, A. L., St. Martin, K., Cusumano, D., Russell, C., & Horner, R. H. (2021). Development and Technical Adequacy of the District Capacity Assessment. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098300721990911