Ideas are easy, implementation is hard. -Guy Kawasaki
To put it simply, implementation is where the rubber meets the road. Weeks—or even months—of planning can fall apart quickly if implementation is not thoughtfully considered. Thankfully, there are people who have spent time researching the best ways to achieve success in implementation.
Strong resources that teach how to successfully implement your strategies include: “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” and “Active Implementation Framework for Programs: How to Use Implementation Science to Improve Outcomes for Children.” Implementation science is a field of research that explores what works and what doesn’t, on average, when programs and strategies are implemented.
Here are some best practices that will help you find greater success:
Identify the right people to implement strategies. The people who attend your collaboration meetings are not always the best people to implement the strategies. Are there different strengths among your collaboration membership? Allow the group to divide the work plan into smaller subcommittees or work groups based on expertise. Switching hats from planning to implementation can shift the dynamic of the collaboration and create a positively charged environment. Revisit Building Relationships. Switching from planning to implementation requires a shift in governance and leadership. A strong decision-making infrastructure with supported leadership is a recipe for success. See the Governance, Structure, and Leadership section for more thoughts on organizing the collaboration for effective action. Broaden the core team to include people with lived experience or expertise on the ground, such as front-line staff. The team may be comprised of practitioners, but consider adding key influencers and champions of change in your local community. Also, look for ways to leverage existing assets.
Troubleshooting is an ongoing process to check in on the mechanics of your strategies. This builds on action learning, and will help your early childhood collaboration address problems, close gaps, and achieve successful outcomes. Guiding questions to consider throughout implementation include:
- Is the objective, activity or innovation well defined?
- Does we have clear, articulated measures? Do we know expected outcomes?
- Do we have guidelines for adaptation?
- Is the implementation still feasible?
- What are potential barriers to implementation?
- Are key stakeholders and champions involved in key activities?
- What structural changes in settings and systems need to be made in order to initiate new practices?
- Has capacity for key implementers been developed?
- Who will be impacted by this strategy?
- Are these resources in place: referral pathways, people, budgets, physical space, equipment, and technology?
Once the logic model and work plan are developed, you will need to plan logistics for successful strategy operations, including such tangible items as space, supplies, surveys, marketing materials, and more. With your team, ask key questions:
- What do we need to implement the strategy?
- How will resources be secured?
- Who will take the lead?
- What do we do in the next three months?
- Do we need signed MOUs, in-kind partnerships, or donations?
- When do the resources need to be in place?
- Do we need to engage more stakeholders?
- Who is leading the activity? Is that clear?
Implementation science researchers Joseph A. Durlak and Emily DuPre researched thousands of programs evaluations to identify key best practices for successful implementation. Here are highlights:
- Track your work. Research shows that monitoring implementation produces effect sizes three times larger than programs that reported no monitoring.
- Temper your expectations. Anticipating perfect or near-perfect implementation is unrealistic.
- Get people involved. Research overwhelmingly shows a positive relationship between community participation and sustainability. Shared decision-making is crucial to successful implementation.
- Be organized. A strong organizational structure (tasks, work groups, procedures) is crucial for guiding the implementation of a new program.
- Believe in what you’re doing. Providers who recognize the need for the innovation believe it will be beneficial and feel more confident in their ability to do what is expected are more likely to implement a successful program.
- Be ready to adapt. Programs modified to meet the unique need of the providers, organizations, and communities have a better chance of stronger implementation than those that must be conducted “as is.”
- Create a strong team. Find program champions, effective leaders, and managerial or administrative support to encourage providers during implementation.