Module 2: Implementation Drivers

Welcome to the Active Implementation Hub. This module provides an overview of the Implementation Drivers, one of the Active Implementation Frameworks.

Learning Objectives

After this module, you should be able to:


Module Content Structure

This module's content is structured via three categories. The three categories of information are highlighted when relevant.


Module 2 Table of Contents



Implementation Drivers are key components of capacity and infrastructure that influence a program’s success. They are the core components needed to initiate and support classroom, building, and district level change.

This overview of the Implementation Drivers is designed to help you think about developing and sustaining the infrastructure you need to improve and sustain new instructional practices and behavior supports so that academic and behavioral outcomes improve.

Implementation Drivers are the components of infrastructure needed to develop, improve and sustain the ability of teachers and staff to implement an innovation as intended as well as create an enabling context for the new ways of work. In short, Drivers are the common features of successful supports needed to make full and effective use of innovations that will benefit students and their families.

There are 3 categories of Implementation Drivers:

  1. Competency Drivers–mechanisms to develop, improve and sustain one’s ability to implement an innovation as intended in order to benefit students.
  2. Organization Drivers–mechanisms to create and sustain hospitable organizational and system environments for effective educational services – that ‘enabling context’ we talked about earlier.
  3. Leadership Drivers– focus on providing the right leadership strategies for different types of leadership challenges. These leadership challenges often emerge as part of the change management process needed to make decisions, provide guidance, and support organization functioning.

Implementation Drivers represent the infrastructure needed to make use of effective and well-defined innovations.

It is important to start with the end in mind. If we look at the formula for success equation (see below), positive outcomes for students represent the “why” in the equation. It is why we want to improve instructional practices and behavioral supports. The “what” in the equation is an effective innovation. We need to know “what” it is we’re going to be implementing so that we can create the infrastructure supports to ensure the innovation is in place, being used as intended, and producing outcomes.

Formula for Success


How will this be done? The implementation infrastructure is the “how” and the next component of our equation. Competency, Organization, and Leadership Drivers are in service to Fidelity to achieve improved outcomes.

In the next sections we will focus on the 3 types of Drivers and their ties to Fidelity. We will consider them through an active implementation lens. An active implementation lens helps us focus on best practices for these components based on the best research and evaluation evidence from Implementation Science.


Compentency Driver Activities


Activity 2.0
SWIFT Unscripted Podcast - Implementation Drivers as the Engine for Change

SWIFT Unscripted (with Dr. Jessica Meisenheimer) invited Dr. Caryn Ward for an insightful interview on Implementation Drivers. After listening to the interview, discuss with your team members how implementation drivers relate to your system and identify general areas of need to support systems change. 

Listen to SWIFT Unscripted Podcast  

Topic 1: Competency Drivers

First, let’s look at Competency Drivers. Competency Drivers are the activities to develop, improve, and sustain educator and administrator ability to put programs and innovations into practice, so students benefit. The Competency Drivers are: Selection, Training, Coaching and Fidelity Assessment.

Fidelity Assessment


Let's start at the top of the triangle with the first Competency Driver, Fidelity. Fidelity assessment refers to measuring the degree to which teachers or staff are able to use the innovation or instructional practices as intended. Fidelity assessment measures the extent to which an innovation is implemented as intended. Did we do what we said we would do?

Assessing fidelity at the teacher/practitioner level is imperative to interpreting outcomes. If we don’t assess fidelity, then we cannot:

  1. be sure an innovation was actually used,
  2. attribute outcomes to the use of the innovation, or
  3. know what to focus on to improve.

If outcomes are not what we’d hoped for, but we have no fidelity data, it’s difficult to develop an improvement plan. Are results poor because we chose the wrong innovation or because the innovation is not yet being used as intended? We need to know the answers to these questions in order to create a functional improvement plan.

Assessing fidelity also provides direct feedback regarding how well the other Implementation Drivers are functioning. Fidelity data and information, as well as innovation outcomes, are a direct reflection of the how well the Competency, Organization and Leadership Drivers are working together to support teachers and staff as they attempt to use interventions or innovations.


In 2011, a fidelity study from the U.S. Department of Education found less than half (44.3%) of research-based prevention programs examined met minimal fidelity standards. Also, because only 7.8% of the prevention programs were found to be research-based, it was estimated that only 3.5% of all curriculum programs were both research-based and met fidelity. As the study notes:

“This information suggests that a tremendous amount of resources, in classroom time for prevention programming alone, is being allocated to school-based prevention efforts that either lack empirical support for their effectiveness or are implemented in ways that diminish the desired effect.” - US Department of Education1

We have to do better. We can do better by developing organizations that support effective practice and use performance assessment as a positive tool to connect infrastructure supports to outcomes.

Key Functions

Fidelity assessment, through an active implementation lens focuses on how well the innovation is being implemented and is not only about the fidelity of the educator, but also is about the quality of the selection, training and coaching systems.

Fidelity data also are impacted by the Organization Drivers.  How well is the administration at the building level supporting the new program or innovation?  What broader education system supports are in place or hindering implementation?  And how are data, fidelity and outcome, being used to make decisions that can improve fidelity?

Many studies indicate higher fidelity is positively correlated with better outcomes. In addition to providing feedback to teachers, measures of fidelity also provide useful feedback to principals, district superintendents, evaluators, coaches, and purveyors regarding implementation progress.

What impacts high fidelity? How do we support it?

Fidelity is not the burden a teacher bears, but rather a product of a thoughtful recruitment and selection process, effective training, and supervision and coaching systems that focus on strengths and build competence and confidence.

This means that fidelity assessment processes and fidelity data help to inform and engage everyone from district staff, to instructional coaches, to building administrators and teachers as new skills are implemented and refined. Results can be strengths-based, reinforcing the progress that has been made. Likewise, results can help responsively guide a staff and organizational development plan for improved practices and skills.

1. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development and Policy and Program Studies Service. (2011). Prevalence and implementation fidelity of research-based prevention programs in public schools: Final report (pp. 58).. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.



Now, let’s look at the Competency Driver, Selection, through an active implementation lens. Selection refers to the purposeful process of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring ‘with the end in mind’.  Selection through an active implementation lens includes identifying skills and abilities that are pre-requisites and/or specific to the innovation or program, as well as attributes that are difficult to train and coach.  Let’s look at how recruitment, interviewing, and selection processes support high quality implementation that leads to better fidelity and improved outcomes.


From an active implementation perspective, the selection process is critical to program success. Selection from an active implementation perspective is different from selection as usual in two important ways:

  1. Selection is viewed as a "mutual" process. That is, the school or district is deciding whether or not to select an individual to join them and the process allows the applicant to understand the expectations related to the position.
  2. Selection includes "role play" or "behavior rehearsal" processes. These processes allow interviewers to observe how applicants respond to feedback and how able and willing they are to learn new practices. This process provides insight into how an applicant might respond to feedback and data. A desire and ability to learn and grow are critical for ongoing improvement.

Key Functions

The selection process is an important opportunity that allows new hires and reassigned staff to clearly understand the job requirements and ways of work and to make their own decision about whether the programs, practices and continuous improvement processes are a good fit for them. A detailed and realistic overview of the position helps the applicant decide if they are up for the challenge. The process also provides the opportunity to select for specific traits or characteristics – ones that may be challenging to support through training and coaching. For example, characteristics such as seeing parents as partners in the education process or willingly being accountable for outcomes. Information gathered through the selection process can be fed forward to trainers and coaches to help them understand the strengths of the person and more quickly focus on areas that may need attention.



Now let's consider training from an implementation perspective. Training through an active implementation lens is defined as purposeful, skill-based, and adult-learning informed processes designed to support teachers and staff in acquiring the skills and information needed to begin using a new program or innovation. 


We know from implementation research that training alone does not result in changes in instructional practices and improved outcomes. But, training is still an important process to provide background information, introduce skills and major concepts, theory and values of the evidence-based programs and practices. In short, training is necessary for building teacher competency, but it is not sufficient if used alone.

Key Functions

Training does continue to bolster the buy-in process. During training, teachers are introduced to new concepts and strategies before they are expected to use them in their classrooms. They are also introduced to the reasons the practices have been selected and how they benefit students. Training is also a safe space for “trying-out” new skills before using them with students.




Coaching is a necessary component for promoting teacher confidence and ensuring competence. Coaching is defined as regular, embedded professional development designed to help teachers and staff use the program or innovation as intended. 


A 2002 meta-analysis by Joyce and Showers makes a compelling case for the need for skillful coaching. The authors noted that even very good training that included demonstration, practice, and feedback resulted in only 5% of teachers using the new skills in the classroom. Only when training was accompanied by coaching in the classroom was there substantial use in the practice setting.

These findings move supervision, monitoring and support to active coaching processes that are embedded in the learning environment and that support adherence to effective practices and quality instruction. This coaching approach also supports the development of judgment needed to differentiate instruction, use data for decision-making, and engage in evidence-based and evidence-informed instructional and innovation practices. Quality coaching offers critical support for trying out new approaches during that “awkward stage” just after initial exposure through training, and helps teachers and staff persist in developing skill, judgment, and the artful and individualized use of the new practices or programs.

Key Functions

Most skills needed by successful educators can be introduced in training sessions, but really are learned on the job with the help of a qualified and skilled coach who passes on wisdom and knowledge related to the implementation of the program or innovation. A good coach assists the teacher in general ways (e.g., student engagement, lesson planning, teaching to concepts, individualized and differentiated instruction), and actively helps educators acquire new skills and abilities related to the evidence-based approaches.

Coaching ensures that the fragile, uncomfortable new skills are actually tried in practice. As new educators get better and better at using their new skills, they become more artful and confident. The goal is to help new teachers, or teachers who are new to the practices. Coaching is related to fidelity because in many ways, fidelity is one of the important outcomes of quality coaching. Supervision and coaching are integrated with selection and training because the educator will continue to build on what was described in the interview process and what was covered during training. And coaching helps to compensate for the skills and abilities that were not present at the point of hire or that were not mastered in training.


Compentency Driver Activities


Activity 2.1a
Competency Driver Mapping  and Action Planning

Map the levels of quality and effort being applied to Competency Drivers for a current program or innovation. This activity will help you with action planning as you zero in on Drivers that can benefit from more effort and/or attention.

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Activity 2.1b
Reflection on Selection

Selection of staff, from an Active Implementation perspective, is different from selection as usual in two important ways.  Review the two distinctions, and then try to apply the two concepts in your setting or to your initiative.

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Activity 2.1c
Coaching for all?

As you are working on building coaching in your team or organization, read the following article.
Then, as an individual or with your team, respond to the questions.


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Topic 2: Organization Drivers


Now we will look at the other side of the triangle – the Organization Drivers. These are the organizational, administrative and systems components that are necessary to create hospitable community, school, district, and state environments for new ways of work for teachers and school staff. Organization Drivers include:

Decision Support Data System


The Decision Support Data System (DSDS) is a system for identifying, collecting, and analyzing data that are useful to the teacher, school, district and other implementing environments. The system itself needs to live up to its name. It must be a data system that provides timely, reliable data for decision-making.

Key Functions

Decision Support Data Systems (DSDS) gather process data, outcome data (e.g., student assessment) and fidelity data. To be useful, data need to be collected, analyzed, and reported over time and across actionable levels. That is, data need to be available from the classroom, grade, school, and district levels so progress can be celebrated, needs identified, and improvement plans generated. In addition to process, fidelity and outcome data, data also can be captured related to the effectiveness of the other Implementation Drivers. Again, all DSDS data and information need to be reliable, valid, and timely, as well as provide measures at actionable units (e.g. classroom, grade level).

DSDS reports and access can be made available at multiple levels throughout an educational system. For example, teachers can access data to monitor student progress, make educational decisions, and to see how their own practices are improving through the fidelity assessment lens. A school principal or a building leadership team can look across a grade level or curriculum area data to detect systemic issues that need to be broadly addressed. District teams can identify masterful teachers who can support their colleagues by demonstrating excellence in instructional practices.

Celebrating success through data is critical to the adoption, use and sustainability of a DSDS. A DSDS is more quickly embraced when the information readily highlights improvements and supports the work of educators at all levels.


Facilitative Administration


The Facilitative Administration Driver focuses on the internal processes, policies, regulations, and structures over which a school, district or implementing organization has some control. Building or District Leadership and Implementation Teams are often responsible for activating this Driver.

Key Functions

The primary function of Facilitative Administration is to create and maintain hospitable environments to support new ways of work. Administrative systems are accountable for creating an organizational context that is supportive, engaged in learning, and continuously improving based on best practices and the use of data. This Driver takes the lead in identifying and addressing barriers related to internal processes (e.g., scheduling, reporting processes, internal policies), as well as identifying and highlighting external barriers and raising issues with others in the education system who can address such barriers. Above all, the Facilitative Administration Driver uses data and proactively solicits feedback to look for ways to make the day to day work of teachers, school staff and administrators more effective and less burdensome.

Video Vignette: Implementation Drivers, Selection and What Can I Do If Staff Are Already In Place?

Karen Blase from the National Implementation Science Network (NIRN) explains Implementation Drivers and what to do if you already have staff in place.

 Video Vignette: What Research Says About Readines

An interview with Melissa Van Dyke about creating readiness for change.

Systems Intervention


The Systems Intervention Driver is focused on the external variables, policies, environments, systems or structures that influence or have impact on an implementing organization. Building and district leaders and teams identify barriers that are beyond their level of authority and work to bring issues to the attention of those who can address such barriers.

Key Functions

The goal of systems intervention is to identify and eliminate or reduce such barriers, or to enhance and sustain those policies, procedures, and regulations that facilitate the work at hand. The purpose is to create and sustain an environment and conditions that support the new way of work. Schools and districts within a state that are all implementing the same innovation, can pool their knowledge and recommendations and develop collaborative approaches to identifying and addressing barriers as well as sharing facilitative practices and procedures.

Topic 3: Leadership Drivers

We will next focus on the bottom of the Triangle – the Leadership Drivers. Volumes have been written about the importance of leadership and the many traits needed by leaders to make change, support staff, and sustain outcomes. The use of the Leadership Driver in the context of active implementation focuses on leadership approaches related to transforming systems and creating change.


Different Challenges Call for Different Strategies

Ron Heifetz and his colleagues at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government identify the importance of technical and adaptive leadership strategies. He says that one of the biggest mistakes leaders make is incorrectly identifying the type of challenge they are facing.

Technical Challenges

Technical challenges are those characterized by pretty clear agreement on a definition of the dimensions of the problem at hand. And there is agreement that the problem would be defined similarly by the groups impacted by it and engaged in addressing it. Technical problems also have clearer pathways to solutions. That is, we can be reasonably certain that given the agreed upon problem and the dimension of the problem, if we engage in a relevant set of activities we will arrive at a solution – not necessarily quickly or easily but the challenge and path to a solution are largely known. Technical challenges can be managed. The leader can form a team, make a plan, make decisions, hold people accountable and execute the solution.

This does not mean that technical challenges are easy nor does it mean that there won’t be adjustments to the plan.

Technical Strategies

Technical challenges respond well to a more traditional management approach where problems are defined, solutions are generated, resources are garnered and tasks are assigned, managed, and monitored. A leader guides the overall process and is more “in charge.”

Adaptive Challenges

Adaptive challenges aren’t “solved” through traditional management approaches, because adaptive challenges involve legitimate, yet competing, perspectives — different views of the problem and different perspectives on what might constitute a viable solution.

In this case, the definition of the problem is much less clear, and the perspectives on the “issue” at hand differ among stakeholders.

Viable solutions and implementation pathways are unclear and defining a pathway for the solution requires learning by all. This “all” means that the primary locus of responsibility is not a single entity or person.

These types of challenges require a different type of leadership and often require leadership at many levels.

Adaptive Strategies

Ron Heifetz identifies six broad strategies for addressing adaptive challenges. 1

  1. Getting on the balcony - Stepping out of the fray to see the key patterns and the bigger picture. Leaders also need to recognize the patterns of work avoidance and the potential for conflict.
  2. Identifying the adaptive challenge - Putting the unspoken issues out on the table. It also involves recognizing the challenges to and uncomfortable changes that may be required in values, practices and relationships.
  3. Regulating distress - Creating a safe environment for challenges to be discussed, and creating a space for diversity of opinion, experiences, and values as well as the opportunity to challenge assumptions. Stress is accepted, tolerated, and regulated by the leader.
  4. Maintaining disciplined attention - Being aware of patterns of behavior that indicate that there is a purposeful or unconscious attempt to avoid disturbing or difficult issues. These patterns and behaviors can show up as scapegoating or blaming others; denying that the problem exists or is truly problematic; or diverting attention by focusing on technical issues.
  5. Giving the work world back - Creating conditions that help people take greater responsibility for the work of change, including defining and solving the problems. The leader supports staff rather than directing or controlling them. Giving the work back to the people also requires instilling and expressing confidence in others so that they will take risks, and backing them up when they make mistakes.
  6. Protecting all voices - Relying on others to raise questions about adaptive challenges and provide support and protection for employees who identify internal conflicts in the organization. This includes providing a legitimate space for those who constructively disagree.

2. Heifetz, R. A., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. Heifetz, R. A., & Laurie, D. L. (1997). The work of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 75(1), 124-134.

Topic 4: Integrated and Compensatory


A key feature of Implementation Drivers is their integrated and compensatory nature.


In too many human service programs, typical selection, training, supervision and fidelity assessment processes are not integrated. That is, selection processes may not tap into the skills and attributes needed for a particular position or practice, training and professional development opportunities may or may not be related to on the job expectations and actual skills needed to improve student outcomes. In addition, supervision may occur, but not coaching. Likewise, supervision is more likely to be focused on timeliness of reports, general work ethic and general professionalism than on adherence to effective practices.

While fidelity assessment protocols often address a generic set of work requirements such as punctuality, ability to get along, lesson planning, attention to curriculum, etc., such processes often do not include direct measures or indicators of teachers’ adherence to best instructional or innovation practices. Have teachers been given enough support, training, coaching and time to gain the competence and confidence to use evidence-based programs and practices? We can’t answer this question unless we have measures of fidelity.

Overall, the staff development process may unintentionally be quite disintegrated.  Such disintegration makes it extraordinarily difficult to facilitate the development of a skillful workforce focused on mastering evidence-based and effective processes. Rather, each person hired brings what they can to the educational environment and is offered modest support.

Even when the use of the Implementation Drivers starts out as highly integrated, it can get “off track” and become disintegrated quite easily. That is, if the Drivers become silos, then practitioners will not benefit. For example, one time professional development events place an undue burden on teachers and staff to make changes in their classrooms and schools in the absence of coaching, student data systems, and fidelity feedback. Administrators and leadership teams need to ensure that each Implementation Driver is playing a role in supporting the implementation of evidence-based practices and programs that can improve student outcomes. When used in an integrated and compensatory manner with an eye toward active implementation, the Implementation Drivers can ensure that educators become increasingly competent and confident, have a supportive administrative environment, access to functional data systems, and the support of transformative leadership.

Key Functions


Benefits of Integrated Drivers Benefits of Compensatory Drivers
  • Increased communication
  • Increased efficiency
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved fidelity and outcomes
  • Builds on strengths
  • Considers the source of expertise
  • Increases efficiency and effectiveness


Activity 2.4a
Mapping Feedback and Feed Forward Pathways

Integration of Implementation Drivers, including creating information/communication pathways, is a key facet of doing Active Implementation.  Using the Implementation Drivers diagram map your current, then improved information/communication pathways between Drivers. Then name three ways to get there.

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Activity 2.4b
Locus of Responsibility

To what degree do you have control and responsibility over Implementation Driver resources, personnel, or processes?  The purpose of this activity is to help you quickly assess locus of responsibility in your system, then develop action plans to improve the quality, access and integration of Implementation Drivers.

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Hearts, Minds, and Implementation Drivers

We have shared a lot of information that can take time to digest and reflect upon. As you think about your past work, you can probably now recognize why some of those hard won successes occurred. Likewise, you might recognize what you might have done to improve your school or district’s track record in using best practices effectively. You may also experience feelings of grief, loss, disappointment and/or disloyalty. These thoughts and feelings are all legitimate. We frequently hear similar reactions as people acquire this new knowledge related to effective implementation. (e.g., “Why didn’t you have this available for me before now?”; “Look at all the time and resources we wasted!"; “This is just too difficult, but now we know better so I guess that means we can do better, but it’s not easy is it?”).

The bottom line is, when you begin to think about letting go of entrenched ways of work, where the implementation math is not adding up for students, families and communities, you are leading yourself and your organization toward Active Implementation and improved outcomes.

Module 2 Summary

Implementation Drivers are key components of capacity and infrastructure that influence a program’s success. They are the core components needed to initiate and support classroom, building, and district level change.

Key Takeaways

  1. There are 3 categories of Implementation Drivers:
    • Competency Drivers – are mechanisms to develop, improve and sustain one’s ability to implement an innovation as intended in order to benefit students.
    • Organization Drivers – are mechanisms to create and sustain hospitable organizational and system environments for effective educational services – that ‘enabling context’ we talked about earlier.
    • Leadership Driver – focus on providing the right leadership strategies for different types of leadership challenges. These leadership challenges often emerge as part of the change management process needed to make decisions, provide guidance, and support organization functioning.
  2. A key feature of Implementation Drivers is their integrated and compensatory nature:
    • Integration – means that the philosophy, goals, knowledge and skills related to the program or practice are consistently and thoughtfully expressed in each of the Implementation Drivers.
    • Compensatory – means that the skills and abilities not acquired or supported through one driver can be compensated for by the use of another driver.


Capstone Activity 2.5a
Video Example and Application of Implementation Drivers
in Your Work

Watch the video clip and listen for mentions of Implementation Drivers.  Then, reflect on your organization and think about potential new ways of doing work using Implementation Drivers to improve fidelity and outcomes.

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Capstone Activity 2.5b
Implementation Drivers Elevator Speech

Using content from Module 2 and the Implementation Drivers diagram, try summarizing Implementation Drivers and their components in a few short sentences.

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Capstone Quiz




Congratulations, you finished Module 2: Implemtation Drivers!  We invite you to assess your learning via the Capstone Quiz.

Your virtual coach Asha guides you through a quick set of questions
[approximate time: 5-10 minutes].


The Active Implementation Hub, AI Modules and AI Lessons are an initiative of the State Implementation & Scaling-up of Evidence-based Practices Center (SISEP) and
the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) located at
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's FPG Child Development Institute.
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