Module 4: Implementations Stages

Welcome to the Active Implementation Hub.  This module provides an overview of Implementation Stages.  Implementation Stages provide guidance to Teams on their journey to implement selected programs and practices.  For applied purposes and illustration, the module uses state and local educational systems as context.

Learning Objectives

After this module, you should be able to:

Knowledge Objectives

Practice Objectives


Module Content Structure

This Module’s content is structured via three categories:

Module Table of Contents


This overview of Implementation Stages is designed to help practitioners (in sites, communities and state organizations) build Active Implementation capacity to ensure continually improving academic and behavioral outcomes.

If you have participated in any of the other Active Implementation Modules, you have learned that, in order to successfully implement and sustain evidence-informed innovations, we need to know:

Implementation Stages address the key component of “HOW” the work unfolds and serve as a guide for the steps Implementation Teams need to take over time.  As you may recall from previous study, Implementation Stages is one of the five Active Implementation Frameworks necessary for building sustainability.

Topic 1: Implementation Stages Overview

Implementation is not an event.  It is a mission-oriented process involving multiple decisions, actions, and corrections designed to make full and effective use of effective innovations in education settings.  Change at the site, local, community or state level does not occur all at once.  Research suggests it can take from two to four years to fully and successfully operationalize an evidence-based program, practice, or effective innovation (Bierman et al., 2002; Fixsen, Blase, Timbers, & Wolf, 2001; Panzano & Roth, 2006; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1982; Saldana et al., 2011). The timer starts when an organization begins to consider change and ends when the change is fully in place and producing intended outcomes in all programs or sites in the community or state.  The process includes four Stages that can lead to the long-term survival (sustainability) and continued effectiveness of any innovation in the context of a changing world. 

Stages are not linear and each one doe s not have a crisp beginning or end.  For example, there are times when an organization will move among stages due to changes in staff, funding, leadership, or unsuccessful attempts at employing the innovation with high fidelity.  There also may be instances in which an organization is in more than one stage at the same time. For example, a program may begin delivering new services due to timeframe limitations and mandates by a funder, while they are still securing resources and putting infrastructure elements in place.

There are key components and processes to pay attention to during each of the stages.  These can guide a systematic and intentional approach for managing system change and building sustainability for the new EBP/EII. 

Lastly, full implementation is achieved when the new practice or approach has stabilized, and we are seeing the consistent use the new practice is resulting in improved child outcomes.  We also see that strategies to gather feedback for improvement by using improvement cycles are highly functioning and providing routine information on how the new practice is going and how the supports are functioning. 

Often times, it takes 2-4 years to get to full implementation, in the best case scenario.

First, we will identify the four Stages and through the following Topic sections in this Module we will examine each of them more closely.

What Are Implementation Stages

Exploration – identifying the need for change, learning about possible innovations that may provide solutions, learning about what it takes to implement the innovation effectively, developing a team to support the work as it progresses through the stages, growing stakeholders and champions, assessing and creating readiness for change, developing communication processes to support the work, and deciding to proceed (or not)

Installation – securing and developing the support needed to put a new approach or practice into place as intended, developing feedback loops between the practice and leadership level in order to streamline communication, and gathering feedback on how new practices are being implemented

Initial Implementation – the first use of an innovation by practitioners and others who have just learned how to use the innovation

Initial implementation is about trying out those new skills and practices, and getting better in implementation.  In this stage, we are gathering data to check in on how implementation is going, and developing improvement strategies based on the data.  Implementation supports are refined based on data. For example, we might find that a new skill educators are using as part of social and emotional development could be further strengthened by additional coaching from an expert; so we would think about how to embed these strategies into ongoing coaching opportunities, and how we would gather data on if the coaching is leading to the improved use of this skills.

Full Implementation – the skillful use of an innovation that is well-integrated into the repertoire of practitioners and routinely and effectively supported by successive program and local administrations


Topic 2: Rationale for Implementation Stages

“Many implementation efforts fail because someone underestimated the scope or importance of preparation.  Indeed, the organizational hills are full of managers who believe that an innovation’s technical superiority and strategic importance will guarantee acceptance.”
 —Leonard-Barton & Kraus, Harvard Business Review, 1985

Why are Implementation Stages Important?

In Module 3: Implementation Teams, we learned about three methods to support the use of programs in real-world settings in order to achieve positive outcomes for recipients: Letting it happen, Helping it happen, and Making it happen (Greenhalgh, Robert, MacFarlane, Bate & Kyriakidou, 204; Fixsen, Blase, Duda, Naoom, & Vandyke, 2010).  The role of an Implementation Team is to “Make it happen!” 

In order to make it happen, that team must navigate the complexity involved in new ways of doing things.  Change is a process (not an event).  Implementation occurs in stages and someone must plan and negotiate the journey through these stages to engage and support practitioners and administrators and effectively launch the work.  Implementation Team members ensure that those doing the work have the skills and support structures to feel competent and confident in using the innovation as intended.  Stage-based work helps to successfully navigate the journey.

Starting with an awareness that implementation occurs in stages allows for intentional planning for the change process.  When we pay attention to the stages of implementation we can:

We are more likely to have people willingly join in the change journey if we match our activities to the stage of implementation we are in and if we take into account the stage of engagement of key individuals as well.  When we behave as though we are in one stage (e.g., Full Implementation) and are really in another (e.g., Initial Implementation) we can create tension, feelings of incompetence, fear and frustration.  Signs of so-called “resistance” may actually be a signal that we need to reassess our activities to see if they truly match the current stage of implementation for a given organization (e.g. site, local, community, or state entities).

Making it Happen

Activity 4.1
Reflecting on Rationales

Think about a time you were trying to use a new skill or program.  As an individual or with your team, reflect on these questions.

• How did you feel about changing the way you did things?
• What support did you have as you made this change?
• How long did it take for practitioners and staff to use the new program skillfully?
• Did you have someone to tell about “what got in the way”?  If yes, were challenges resolved?
• Do you still use that skill or program?  Why or why not?

Download PDF

Topic 3: Exploration Stage

The Exploration Stage is a critical starting place when States, communities, local organizations, and others are considering change.  Taking the time to explore what to do, how to do it, and who will do it saves time and money (Fixsen et al., 2001; Romney, 2014) and improves the chances for success (Saldana, Chamberlain, Wang, & Brown, 2011; Slavin, Madden, Chamberlain, & Cheung, 2010).  During Exploration, readiness is assessed by an Implementation Team.  To the extent an organization is not ready, the Implementation Team is accountable for helping to create readiness.  Data indicate that about 20% of people and organizations are ready for change at any given time (Prochaska, Prochaska, & Levesque, 2001).  Thus, creating readiness is an important function when the goal is to reach all individuals being served.

The Exploration stage takes place well before a new program or practice is put in place. The overall goal of this stage is to consider the extent to which a potential innovation or approach meets the needs of the community, and whether implementation is feasible. During Exploration, an Implementation Team assesses the potential match between community needs, the new practice or innovation requirements, and community resources.  This involves communication with practitioners, administrators, and other staff members, families and community stakeholders, purveyors and “experts” and with other implementing sites and local entities.  Only after this exploration process does the Team make a decision or recommendation to proceed or not to proceed. 

This stage also is the time to assess potential barriers to implementation related to funding, staffing, referrals, and system changes.  The result of the Exploration Stage is a clear implementation plan with tasks and time lines to facilitate the installation and initial implementation of the program.  The plan creates the “readiness” for the change as the Team performs this stage’s related functions. 

Implementation Teams

An Implementation Team is an organized and active group that supports the implementation, sustainability, and scale-up of usable innovations by integrating the use of implementation stages, drivers and improvement cycles.  When a single individual is assigned the whole task of bringing new ways of working to an organization, what happens when that person leaves?  Creating a team to lead the implementation process is a critical early part of the sustainability process.  If an Implementation Team is not available, the Exploration Stage is the time to form a team and have it begin to function. The Implementation Team needs to be comprised of individuals who, collectively, have the expertise necessary to implement the new program or practice, and to develop and maintain the system and infrastructures to support effective implementation. 

For more information about Implementation Teams, see Module 3: Implementation Teams.

Video Vignette 26: Case Example-Exploration Stage

How can we take these good ideas that work in some places, and get them to work in all places… so all children in all schools would have access? Listen to Dean Fixsen and Karen Blase discuss active implementation and scaling up.


Usable Innovation

Once an Implementation Team is formed, it works to accomplish the overall goal of the Exploration Stage, which is to investigate and select a Usable Innovation to meet the needs of the community served. Before implementing an innovation (e.g., an evidence-based program or practice), it’s vital to have a clear understanding of the program and its suitability for your State, community or organization.  It’s necessary to have sufficient detail about the innovation that you can train staff and administrators to implement it with fidelity, that the innovation can be replicated across all of your sites, programs, and communities, and that there is an assessment that allows you to measure the use of the innovation. In other words, the innovation needs to be teachable, learnable, doable, and readily assessed in practice.  The following criteria need to be in place to ensure that your innovation is usable:

For more information about Usable Innovations, see Lesson 2: Usable Innovations and/or Module 6: Usable Innovations.

Implementation Drivers

Developing general capacity to support the new program or practice begins in this Exploration Stage. Supports needed for staff include creating readiness, providing staff training, developing coaching service delivery plans, and identifying performance or fidelity assessments. Organization capacity supports for the innovation include such things as revising or developing administrative policies and procedures to ensure system alignment, identifying technology and data needs to support implementation, and obtaining necessary resources and community connections to move forward.

Create Readiness

Practice Tip


While creating readiness is a key feature of the Exploration Stage, it really  is one of those activities that never ends and is embedded in each stage.  New leaders, new community members, and new family and youth advocates are always entering the scene and the need to provide them with information, actively solicit their input, and discuss their concerns remains an ongoing task. 


Creating “readiness for change” is an active component of the Exploration Stage.  During the Exploration Stage, individuals typically need more information and time to process what the needs are, and what the innovation or change might mean for them.  Encouragement, incentives, or demands to “just do it” typically do not lead to the “action” hoped for by the leaders or management team.  Data show about 5-15% of these efforts lead to intended outcomes (Vernez et al., 2006).  What is needed is relevant and detailed information so individuals and organizations that are being asked to change go into the process well informed and “ready” for change.

Readiness is an under-emphasized part of the implementation process.  Proceeding with implementation prematurely can lead to both ineffective and expensive implementation efforts.  In some cases, leadership or management teams within an organization or system have fully explored a “change initiative” and have decided on a course of action.  The same leaders and managers then are surprised when collaborators, staff, or colleagues (hearing about the intended change for the first time) display what some call “resistance to change.” “Resistance” occurs when people are asked prematurely to move to action.  They are “resistant to change” because they are not “ready for change.”  It is the responsibility of managers and Implementation Teams to minimize “resistance” that is the result of poor planning and lack of useful communication.

Creating readiness for implementing evidence-based practices in human services is not a simple matter.  Given the breadth, depth, intensity, and duration of the efforts involved in implementing innovations to reach individuals in communities statewide, States and local organizations need to engage in Exploration Stage activities at each level of system functioning. 

For more information about creating readiness see SISEP Brief #3: Readiness for Change.

Improvement Cycles

As noted previously, Implementation Teams use data to drive decision-making about selecting a usable innovation in this stage. Data are collected through needs assessments, innovation assessments, and staff and organizational readiness assessments. The information gathered is used to reach a decision about the best practice or program to adopt to meet the needs of the community being served.

Communication Plan

While actual implementation work may be vested in a few individuals who comprise the Implementation Team, to promote sustainability it is critical to involve a wider range of stakeholders in the process.  During this stage, implementation teams identify who their stakeholders are and consider how to include them in a meaningful way in their work.  A carefully crafted plan allows for sharing of information with staff, families, and relevant community entities as well as seeking their input and using their expertise.  Other system participants such as advisory boards, regional and state agencies should be engaged as well so they can become an active part of the improvement cycles that will be used to remove potential roadblocks and establish procedures and protocols to facilitate the work.

Making it Happen

Activity 4.2
“Exploring” with the Initiative Inventory

Before starting “something new,” it’s important to review what already exists and how your district is using existing resources.  This Exploration Stage activity can help delineate how much is already being asked of district staff and determine if the “new” will fit with the “existing.” The NIRN Initiative Inventory Process Tool is available to assist teams with developing a plan for completing the NIRN Initiative Inventory.

See Activity


Activity 4.3
“Exploring” with the Hexagon Tool

The Hexagon Tool is designed to help states, communities, and sites systematically evaluate new and existing innovations via six broad factors: needs, fit, resource availability, evidence, readiness for replication and capacity to implement.

Download PDF

Topic 4: Installation Stage

New programs or practices are not yet being delivered during the Installation Stage.  Rather, this is when needed organizational and personal competencies are established to ensure the successful implementation of the selected innovation.  After making a decision to begin implementing a new practice or innovation, there are tasks that need to be accomplished before the change in practice actually begins.  These activities reflect the Installation Stage of implementation.  Activities during the Installation Stage create the infrastructure and make the instrumental changes necessary.

Implementation Teams

During the Installation Stage, Implementation Teams actively build their own capacity to support the implementation of selected innovations. They partner with program developers, external consultants, and intermediary organizations to ensure they have the competencies needed to support and sustain implementation at the staff level as well as at the organization level. At this stage, implementation teams work together to assure the availability of resources necessary to initiate the project, including the development of the implementation infrastructure.

Organization managers often think of innovations as “plug and play” and are surprised by the need for preparation and resources.  Many attempts to use evidence-based programs end at the Installation Stage when the lack of resources becomes evident.  Implementation Teams help organizations anticipate these needs and help them prepare for the next Stage.

Implementation Teams actively develop the supports needed to initiate the new practice and use it as intended.  Teams put necessary organizational supports into place (e.g., funding, human resource strategies, new policies and procedures, materials).  They create referral mechanisms, reporting frameworks and outcome expectations.  And importantly, they create and install the supports needed to improve the confidence and confidence of staff (e.g. training, coaching, data systems).  This is all part of establishing a new site, community and organizational climate and culture.

Practice Tip


A Practice Profile will support this process. Using this tool helps to identify the essential functions or core components of a program and describe key activities associated with each component. Creating Practice Profiles enables a program to be teachable, learnable, and doable in typical service settings. The Practice Profile also includes examples of three levels of fluency for guidance: expected (fluent), developmental (heading in the right direction) and unacceptable (off track).

Usable Innovations

Before implementing a selected practice or program, it’s important to have a clear definition of the program Defining an innovation in sufficient detail allows the organization to train staff and administrators to implement it with fidelity; replicate it across all sites; and observe and measure the use of the innovation.

See Lesson 3: Practice Profiles on the AI Hub for more details

Implementation Drivers

Practice Tip


It often is necessary to revisit the Installation Stage after Initial Implementation begins as additional roadblocks appear.

Selecting staff, identifying sources for training and coaching, providing initial training for staff, finding or establishing fidelity assessment tools, locating office space, assuring access to materials and equipment, and so on are among the resources that need to be in place before the work can be done effectively (Fixsen et al. 2005; Saldana et al., 2012). During the Installation Stage, Implementation Teams work together to secure the availability of these resources, including the development of their organization’s implementation infrastructure. These activities and their associated “start-up costs” (which may add to first year costs) are necessary first steps to begin any implementation of a new practice or innovation. 

"All organizations [and systems] are designed, intentionally or unwittingly, to achieve precisely the results they get." (Darling, 2005).
From an implementation perspective, we know that successful and sustainable implementation of evidence-based programs always requires organization and systems change.  Some of the work needed to promote this change includes selecting and/or repurposing of staff, scheduling team meetings, aligning policies and procedures, purchasing equipment, finding space and developing the competence of those bringing the changes to staff members.  Any of this work that can be done before the Initial Implementation Stage will reduce the number of potential problems later. 

Video Vignette 27: Case Example - Installation Stage

An example of a Head Start program moving through through implementation stages to enhance practices to ensure sustainable achievement of program standards.


Select the first practitioners

Who is qualified to carry out the evidence-based practice or program?  The Installation Stage includes identifying specific behavioral characteristics needed to carry out the work, then developing methods for recruiting and selecting practitioners with those characteristics and with the necessary pre-requisite knowledge and/or skills.  At any level of the organization, this decision of “who goes first” must be made: Which sites, which organization staff members, which Regional Implementation Team, which content experts and practitioners have the most potential or at least can be developed quickly?  Careful consideration and mutual selection at this point will reduce potential “push-back” as the harder work begins.  Just remember, the person who is first to volunteer may not be the optimal choice!

Develop selection protocols

Selection of the leaders and early practitioners for your current (and future) improvement initiatives will be crucial to successful use of the innovation.  To expedite this selection process, the development of selection and/or interviewing protocols to use as screening devices will be helpful.  Prior to actually selecting staff, the process will develop consensus in the group regarding the skills and characteristics that are necessary.  A protocol will keep the focus on specific criteria, keep the process consistent, and make it more likely for choices to be acceptable to the whole group.  If necessary, it may also make it easier to later explain why someone was (or was not) selected. Once created, the protocol can continue to support Teams in selection activities for future work. 

For more information on using the Selection Driver during the Installation Stage, see Module 2: Implementation Drivers.

Practice Tip


Remember to include administrators in trainings since they are responsible for supervision and will be visiting sites that use these strategies!  Administrators are responsible for creating ‘hospitable’ environments that allow the new innovation or practices to be used as intended.  They need to understand what it takes to use the program or practice as intended.

Develop Training Plan and Train the First Cohort

Practitioners (and others) at an implementation site need to learn when, where, how, and with whom, to use new approaches and new skills.  Content knowledge, rationales, practice opportunities, and careful attention to adult learning strategies are all components of this plan.  It is also critical to design or use existing assessments of practitioner performance during training as well as assessments related to the overall effectiveness of the training.  This information informs the degree to which practitioners need additional training and coaching. It also will highlight changes that may improve future trainings.  Skill-based training must occur before we can expect practitioners to begin using the new programs or practices.

Develop Coaching Plan

From the research of Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers (2002), we have learned how important coaching is to promote actual use of innovations in the service setting by practitioners so that consumers can actually benefit from these strategies.  Review the table below.  Note the difference Coaching makes in terms of actual use of an innovation in the classroom.

Table 4.1 Percent of Participants Who Demonstrate Knowledge, Demonstrate New Skills in a Training Setting, and Use New Skills in the Classroom Outcomes

Training Components Knowledge    Skill Demonstration Use in Classroom
Theory and Discussion 10% 5% 0%
+ Demonstration in Training 30% 20% 0%
+ Practice & Feedback in Training 60% 60% 5%
+ Coaching in Classroom 95% 95% 95%

 (Joyce and Showers, 2002)

Since strategies practitioners use on site involve skills of varying complexity, it is not enough to know a strategy.  They must be able to use it with fluency in order to get positive student outcomes.  Coaching provides “craft” information along with advice, encouragement, and opportunities to practice and use skills specific to the innovation.

Improvement Cycles

Implementation Teams gather data during the Installation Stage to ensure that general and innovation-specific capacities are sufficient to begin implementation confidently, and that communication is happening as intended both within and between levels of the organization, team members and
key stakeholders.

Evaluate readiness of data systems

To evaluate success of an innovation, an organization must examine both how it affects recipient outcomes and determine the fidelity of the use of the innovation by the practitioners.  If there is only marginal (or no) improvement, does this mean the innovation itself is the problem?  Or is the problem that the implementation of the innovation was not effective?  A system designed to quickly and effectively capture both fidelity and outcome data can provide an answer that question.  Once established, the decision support data system provides data that are reliable, valid, accessible for decision-making, and support frequent use of data during the implementation process.

Establish communication links and protocols

Regularly scheduled, frequent, formal, transparent, and accurate communication between and among the practice level (e.g., program/ site) and the policy level (e.g., Organization/Community/State) creates an opportunity to continuously examine and improve the process of implementation.  Through these communication links, teams can use Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles to quickly troubleshoot issues as they arise at the local level and remove roadblocks that slow or derail use of new strategies.  Implementation Teams use improvement cycles to rapidly solve problems help keep the focus on using the innovation to improve individual outcomes. 

More systemic issues and challenges involving multiple organizational levels also benefit from a linked communication process.  This process of creating and then using communication feedback loops for Policy Enhanced Practices and Practice Informed Policies helps create a more aligned system that supports new ways of work.  Module 5: Improvement Cycles provides more information about using Improvement Cycles (PDSA cycles) to engage in making purposeful and functional change.

Making it Happen

Activity 4.4
Developing a Training Plan

The Training Plan Template is designed to help guide your team’s planning process in developing a training program. This tool can be used to guide discussions around rationale, core components, knowledge, skills, outcomes and assessment.

Download PDF

Topic 5: Initial Implementation Stage

During the Initial Implementation Stage, the new practice is first put into place and made available to consumers. The key focus of this stage is on continuous improvement. In Initial Implementation, staff are attempting to use newly learned skills (e.g., the evidence-based program) in the context of an organization, that is itself just learning how to change to accommodate and support the new ways of work.  This is the most fragile Stage where the awkwardness associated with trying new things and the difficulties associated with changing old ways of work are strong motivations for giving up and going back to comfortable routines (business as usual).

Implementation Teams

Implementation teams work together within and across levels of the organization
 to support the implementation infrastructure and ensure high fidelity implementation of the innovation. Implementation teams place a heavy emphasis on the systematic review of data during this stage to ensure that any changes to the model or approach are purposeful and planned, rather than reactionary or opportunistic.

The Initial Implementation Stage is a real challenge.  Massive investments in encouraging local sites and communities to use evidence-based innovations lead to about 10% use of the innovations as intended (Vernez et al., 2006).  The failure is not in the innovations – they are supported by research indicating they are quite effective when used as intended.  The problems occur in the lack of support for implementation best practices to support the full and effective use of the evidence-based innovations.  Establishing and sustaining changes to the point of integration into daily work is not likely unless there is external support for change at the practice level (support from coaches; Joyce & Showers, 2002), organization level (support from Implementation Teams; Aladjem & Borman, 2006; Nord & Tucker, 1987), and system level (support from Implementation Teams; Schofield, 2004).

During the Initial Implementation Stage all the components of the program or innovation are in place: initial practitioners begin using the new program and practices, the implementation supports begin to function, and the site, local and state systems begin to change to facilitate the use of the innovation and realize intended benefits. The Implementation Team is alert to see if the efforts in the Exploration and Installation Stages have secured the resources necessary for a successful launch. 

Implementation Drivers

Practice Tip


Remember, Stages are not linear.  They interact to produce optimal results.  For example, during the Initial Implementation Stage, the Implementation Team may identify weaknesses or gaps in the system.  Perhaps further Exploration work needs to be done with some individuals or groups, or Installation work needs to be extended to secure additional resources.  Solving these issues helps Implementation Teams develop protocols to strengthen these elements for future cohorts who will also use the innovation. 

The Initial Implementation Stage is the time to see whether the practitioners involved in the new work are mentally prepared for change and have been provided with sufficient knowledge and skill to use the innovation well.  This is a fragile stage since people feel awkward when trying new things.  While struggling to make this new way of work their own, some will be tempted to seek comfort by reverting to their prior practices.  Implementation Team members ensure that the coaching and data systems are functioning to offer support and encouragement to staff as they help manage these new expectations.  Celebrations of progress motivate continuing use of the new program or practices. 

Site data, observations of staff, and practitioner reports further inform what, if any, changes are needed in future trainings and coaching routines.  This allows for adjustment before moving into the full implementation stage.

In earlier stages, the Implementation Team and leadership determined how sites and organizations (e.g. scheduling, staffing) might need to change to create a hospitable environment for staff using the innovation.  During the Initial Implementation Stage, the plan is put into action.  Since no plan is complete, unanticipated changes will add to the “awkward” moments as adjustments to the plan occur.  (Note:  the Leadership Driver and addressing adaptive challenges can help move through this awkward stage. See Module 2:  Implementation Drivers – Leadership )

The motto for Initial Implementation is “Get started, then get better!”  To play an instrument, learn to drive, or initiate anything requiring new skills, we know it will take time to become good at it.  However, until you actually begin, you will not know your strengths or what needs additional attention.  Get started, then get better ! 

Video Vignette 28: Case Example - Initial Implementation Stage

An example of a Head Start program moving through through implementation stages to enhance practices to ensure sustainable achievement of program standards.



Improvement Cycles

PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) Cycles

As the new work is launched, practitioners may experience similar, consistent barriers to using an innovation as intended. The key activities of the Initial Implementation Stage focus on strategies to promote continuous improvement. Improvement Cycles make the connection between what we have built and how well it serves (form and function).  PDSA cycles are one strategy Implementation Teams can use to make meaningful changes, alleviate barriers, embed solutions, and improve intended outcomes.  The activities of PDSA cycles include:  

Make use of Practice-Policy Feedback cycles to resolve systems issues

Policies that govern our work must be facilitators to any new practices (policy enables innovations).  An examination of the use of the practices at their intended level can be used to influence the development and modification of those policies and procedures (practice experience informs policies).

For example:

  • After restructuring roles for some staff members, the evaluation process is still based on their former position descriptions. The position descriptions and evaluation tools and process need to be updated and aligned to support the use of the innovation
  • Peer coaching is a component of a district’s selected evidence based practice; however, a district policy exists that a teacher may be out of the classroom only one day per semester for professional development.  The policy needs to be rewritten to align with the need for multiple classroom visits and the necessary debriefing after each visit.

For these kinds of issues, solutions may require support from leadership, policy makers or other key partners of the larger system.  Implementation Teams engage leadership in bi-directional practice-policy communication cycles to identify and resolve potential roadblocks at multiple levels of the system.  Through this early “diagnosis” and resolution, negative impacts on effective use of innovations can be minimized and consumer benefits can be realized. 

Communication links and protocols

As this new process unfolds, all stakeholders need to stay in communication to maintain the flow of information.  During the Initial Implementation Stage, Teams are tapping resources, staff members are spending time and energy on the new way of business, and frustrations can run high.  To maintain “buy-in” it is crucial to have transparency at all levels of the organization.  Using agreed upon communication protocols keeps everyone “in the loop” by providing updates on progress, a venue for questions, and opportunities for clarifications and problem-solving.

Making it Happen

Activity 4.5
Linking Communication Protocols

By “linking” communication protocols, organizations form a practice-policy communication cycle.  These feedback processes provide supportive policy, funding, and operational environments for new initiatives, as well as systems changes.

Download PDF

Topic 6: Full Implementation

Full implementation of an innovation occurs once the new learning becomes integrated into practitioner, organizational, and community practices, policies, and procedures.  Over time, the innovation becomes “standard practice” and a new operationalization of “business as usual” takes its place in the setting (e.g., Faggin, 1985).  During Full Implementation vigilance over site practices and data reviews continue as more staff members participate, turnover occurs, and improvement cycles continue.

Full Implementation is reached when 50%  or more of the intended practitioners, staff, or team members are using an effective innovation with fidelity and good outcomes.  For example, if there are 10 teachers who are attempting to use an innovative approach for math instruction, 5 of the teachers would need to be using the innovation as intended as measured by a performance (fidelity) assessment.  Full Implementation is difficult to achieve and sustain without the necessary implementation supports described herein (Fixsen, Blase, Timbers, & Wolf, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 2011).

Implementation Teams

In the Full Implementation Stage the new ways of providing services are now the standard ways of work where practitioners and staff routinely provide high quality services and the implementation supports are part of the way districts and schools carry out their work.  Implementation Teams are built into organization structures and are essential contributors to the ongoing success of using the evidence-based program.  Staff, administrators, and leaders come and go and each new person needs to develop the competencies to effectively carry out the innovation and its implementation supports.  Managers and administrators come and go and need to continually adjust organizational supports to facilitate the work of practitioners.  Systems continue to change and impact organizations and practitioners.  Evidence-based programs continue to be developed and programs already in place continue to be improved.  The work of Implementation Teams is to ensure that the gains in the use of effective practices are maintained and improved over time and through transitions of leaders and staff.

Implementation Drivers

The Implementation Team will continue to look at each of the Implementation Drivers during this Stage to monitor their effectiveness in “full throttle” mode.  Continuous quality improvement of the Implementation Drivers is a hallmark of Full Implementation.  Has there been turnover in staff on the Implementation Team?  Are new staff members on board who need orientation and training?  Are new staff members getting increased coaching compared to staff who are meeting fidelity?  Is coaching being provided to all staff?  Is coaching contributing to staff satisfaction and improvements in fidelity?  Are the data systems providing timely, actionable, reliable, and valid data?  Are data regularly used for decision-making?  How are the stakeholders reacting to the widespread use of these practices? 

Policy changes/development for sustainability

When Full Implementation has been achieved and is being sustained, people sometimes forget that changes in policy and procedures can adversely impact use of the innovation as intended.  Throughout the life of the innovation the Implementation Team together with leadership pays attention to the degree to which policies and procedures help or hinder implementation and outcomes.  Have you paid attention to the changes needed in policy and procedures with ongoing active use of the improvement cycles?  It can take some time to change policies even after the Implementation Team recognizes the need to do so.  There may be future innovations which will require the same type of changes in policy as the current one.  Now is the time to get comfortable with ‘institutionalizing’ the use of improvement cycles to strengthen the infrastructure so you are ready to go next time!

Improvement Cycles

Fidelity scores signal full implementation.  Fidelity measures are identified and/or developed during Exploration and Installation.  Fidelity measures are used during Initial Implementation to improve the competency of new Implementation Team members as they support teacher and staff learning and use of innovations.  When 50% of the practitioners meet fidelity criteria, it is likely that organizations and sites have changed and are providing routine support for the full use of innovations.  Does the criterion of 50% seem low to you?  That mark is actually challenging to meet and sustain given staff and leadership turnover.  Implementation Teams are essential to assuring the supports to reach Full Implementation and sustain that level of excellence for successive cohorts of students and staff.

Evaluation for expected outcomes

When 50% of the staff are using the innovation fully and effectively, it is legitimate to anticipate robust recipient outcomes.  At this point, there is no doubt that the innovation is in place and is being used as intended across a site.  Full Implementation creates the opportunity to see if the innovations/practices/systems are producing the anticipated outcomes.  During this Stage, it is appropriate to analyze the results from the selected or created assessments for individual outcomes coupled with implementation fidelity checks.  Based on the results of this evaluation process, action plans are created or updated (e.g., reporting to stakeholders, celebrations, re-examination of drivers).  Sustainability requires tenacity.  First, you got started, then you got better.  Now may be your biggest challenge – maintaining the quality over time and across staff through purposeful use of the Implementation Drivers and Improvement Cycles.  The goal is to have the use of these frameworks become second nature. 

Share your Success!

A great deal of hard work has gotten you this far.  Celebration is motivation! When it becomes clear from your assessments that staff are implementing with fidelity and consumers benefitted from these efforts, be sure to spread the word!  Success will encourage everyone involved to maintain the innovation(s).

Topic 7: Stage-Based Planning

Stage-based planning can help implementation teams and other stakeholders plan effectively for the activities, infrastructures and supportive contexts that need to be addressed at each stage. When activities are matched to implementations stages, it can increase the likelihood of moving successfully through each stage and better prepare for the challenges of the next stage.

A 2015 OPRE Brief, An Integrated Stage-Based Framework for Implementation of Early Childhood Programs and Systems (Metz et al., 2015) provides a definition, and examples, along with a stage-based planning tool in the appendix. Download OPRE Brief

Topic 8: Stages of Implementation Analysis: Where Are We? Planning Tool

Purpose of Tool

The Stages of Implementation Analysis planning tool will help the Implementation Team plan for and/or assess the use of stage-based activities to improve the success of implementation efforts for EBPs or evidence-informed innovations.

The tool can be used to Self-Assess current stage related activities (e.g., “We are in the midst of Exploration”) or past efforts related to a stage (e.g., “We just completed most of Installation?  “How did we do?”  “What did we miss?”).

Download Planning Tool

For effective use of this tool follow these steps:

  • Define the desired function of the tool in advance
    (e.g., Assess current status? Action planning?)
  • For self-assessment, Implementation Lead or Implementation Team completes entire assessment to achieve “strength of stage” score for each stage of implementation
  • For Items marked “Initiated or Partially in Place” and “Not Yet Initiated,” Team develops Action Plans to outline next steps or determine what needs to be revisited
  • This segment of the Tool is related to the Exploration Stage, but the full tool has items relevant to each stage and can be used throughout all stages to check back or when implementation dips occur
    (e.g., change in leadership, staff turnover, etc.).  
  • The Implementation Team also should feel comfortable adding stage-related items that are specific to the innovation and process in their progam, site, community or state. 


See the sample below from the “Exploration Stage” section of the tool.

Making it Happen

Activity 4.6
Stages of Implementation Analysis: Where Are We?

Using the Stages of Implementation Analysis tool, think of a current initiative at your site and consider which components of the Exploration Stage were in place, partially in place or not in place when it was first launched.  How about now? What might be some “next right steps”?

Download PDF


““The time required to move from Initial Implementation to Full Implementation will vary depending upon the complexity of the new program model, the baseline infrastructure, the availability of implementation supports and resources, and other contextual factors.”
— Metz & Bartley, 2012


Practice Tips


Here are some fundamental “truths” as you journey through the stages of implementation.  

  • You don’t get to skip any!  You can try, but problems will drag you back to the stage or stage-based activities that you tried to skip.
  • Activities need to match the Stage.  
  • Stages need to be revisited based on changes and turnover (e.g., the providers, practitioners, partners)
  • With multiple initiatives, each one may be at a different stage


Key Takeaways


Capstone Activity 4.7a
Implementation Stages Elevator Speech

After reviewing Module 4: Implementation Stages, create a 3-minute elevator speech for site leadership, explaining the importance of purposefully moving through Implementation Stages.

Download PDF