Framework 2: Implementation Stages

An implementation stages diagram portayed as four overlapping circles, reading left to right

Implementation is not an event.  Implementation is “a specified set of activities designed to put into practice an activity or program of known dimensions.”  These activities occur over time in stages that overlap and that are revisited as necessary dimensions.

The next framework we would like to introduce is Implementation Stages.  Implementation is a process involving multiple decisions, actions, and corrections to change the structures and conditions necessary to successfully implement and sustain new programs and innovations.

Research shows implementing a well-constructed, well-defined, well-researched program can be expected to take 2 to 4 years (Bierman et al., 2002; Fixsen, Blase, Timbers, & Wolf, 2001; Panzano & Roth, 2006; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1982; Solberg, Hroscikoski, Sperl-Hillen, O’Conner, & Crabtree, 2004). There also is substantial agreement that planned change is a recursive process that happens in discernible stages. Conducting stage-appropriate implementation activities is necessary for successful new practices to be used and for organizations and systems to change in order to support new ways of work.

There are four functional Implementation Stages. Notice that each stage of implementation does not cleanly end as another begins. Often stages overlap with activities related to one stage still occurring as activities related to the next stage begin. Likewise, stages may be revisited when circumstances change.

The following section describes each of the four stages in more detail.

Implementation Stages

An implementation stages diagram with the stages "exploration", "installation", "initial implementation" and "full implementation" listed

Exploration Stage

An implementation stages diagram with the first stage highlighted


  • Assessing the needs of students
  • Identifying possible programs and practices to meet those needs
  • Assessing the fit and feasibility of implementing and sustaining the identified programs

The goal of the Exploration Stage is to examine the degree to which a particular program or innovation meets the school or district’s needs and whether implementation is feasible. In this stage, schools and districts must assess the goodness of fit between potential programs and innovations, and the needs of the students they serve.

For example a school or district would assess the fit between potential evidence-based practices and the academic, behavioral, and health needs of the students they serve.

Requirements for implementation must be carefully assessed and potential barriers to implementation examined. Key activities during exploration include getting key stakeholders involved, forming an implementation team, and identifying potential programs. It’s also important to ensure that core innovation components of potential programs are identified and well operationalized. Even with existing evidence-based and evidence-informed practices, more program development work might need to be done before implementation decisions to move forward can be made.

Evaluation and Planning Tools: The Hexagon Tool

This tool can help you and your team appropriately select EBPs/EIIs by reviewing six broad factors in relation to the program or practice under consideration.

Installation Stage

An implementation stages diagram with the second stage highlighted


  • Developing communication pathways
  • Ensuring financial and human resources are in place
  • Finding physical space
  • Purchasing equipment and technology
  • Developing practitioner competency

The Installation Stage begins as the decision is made to move ahead.

The Installation Stage is often overlooked in implementation. Practical preparations needed to initiate the new program or innovation are central to the Installation Stage. Once a decision is made to adopt a program or innovation, changes often must be made in multiple settings and systems to accommodate and fully support the new practice, program or innovation. These can include practical activities such as:

  • Developing communication protocols
  • Ensuring financial and human resources are in place
  • Finding or reallocating physical space
  • Purchasing equipment and technology

In addition, developing the knowledge, skills and abilities of teachers and administrators is a key function of the Installation Stage. This means that training, coaching, and data systems are conceptualized, created, or purchased.  It also means those expected to implement the new program or practices receive the training and support needed.  Well prepared teachers are more likely to feel confident and to be able to implement new programs and practices with fidelity.

Initial Implementation Stage

An implementation stages diagram with the third stage highlighted


  • Special attention to coaching
  • Attention to continuous improvement and rapid cycle problem solving
  • Using decision support data systems (DSDS)

The Initial implementation Stage begins when the new program or practice is first being put to use.

Attempts to implement a new program or innovation often falter (or end) during installation or initial implementation.  This is because everyone is learning and challenges emerge as the status quo is changed.  Key activities during this stage include intensive coaching to help practitioners through this awkward stage. As problems emerge the team develops and engages in strategies to promote continuous improvement and rapid- cycle problem solving. In addition, data are used to assess the quality of implementation, identify problems and solutions, and inform decision making. It is critical to address barriers and develop systemic solutions quickly rather than allowing problems to re-emerge and reoccur.  The processes for doing so are discussed later in the Improvement Cycles section.

Full Implementation Stage

An implementation stages diagram with the fourth stage highlighted


  • Teachers skillfully employing new practices
  • An infrastructure to support teachers
  • Integrating new learning at all levels in classroom building and district

Full implementation occurs as teachers skillfully provide new programs and outcomes are achieved. New learning at all levels becomes integrated into classroom, building and district settings. In full implementation, the processes and procedures to support the new way of work are in place. The system has largely been recalibrated to accommodate and support the new ways of work.

The time it takes to move from initial implementation to full implementation will vary depending upon the complexity of the new program or innovation as well as the development of the infrastructure to support teachers and the availability of implementation supports and resources.


One final note on Implementation Stages: sustainability planning and activities need to be an active component of every stage and attention to both financial and programmatic sustainability are required.

Financial sustainability involves ensuring that the funding streams for delivering the new practice are established, adequate and sustainable.  This means funding for teacher, staff, and administrative time. 

Programmatic sustainability involves ensuring that the implementation infrastructure is established, reliable, effective, and sustainable.   The infrastructure needed to ensure continued quality implementation includes plans and activities for:

  • Continuing to provide timely and effective training, coaching and fidelity measurement processes making data-driven decisions for continuous improvement and problem-solving
  • Ensuring that policies and procedures continue to support and facilitate full implementation

Activity 1.2
Getting started with Implementation Stages

How do you start engaging in stage-based implementation activities? Review the Module 1 material on Implementation Stages then consider these questions.  We encourage you to discuss these with your team and/or to write down your responses.

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