What is implementation?

Implementation may prove a comprehensive and complex process, but what is implementation, really? The following is a brief introduction.

Implementation is the complicated phase when research, visions and ideas are to be translated into something of use in the real world. It may, for example, involve theories, programmes, activities or structures that must be adapted to, fleshed out and introduced in the field of practice.

What and how are equally important

All types of change work has a description of what needs to be done (the intervention), but how to perform this work (the implementation) is equally important. The organisation must emphasise and handle both the 'what' and the 'how' in order for the change work to have any effect.

An overview model for the implementation process

Dean Fixsen et al (2005) has developed a model that provides a good framework for understanding what takes place during the actual implementation process:

The organisational structure is the quality of the organisation's systems and structure; i.e. the capacity of the organisation before the change. The culture is the organisation's value level. Inclusion, for example, is an important value, especially in schools.

The source is the change to be implemented, with a description of the core components of the change (the 'what'). These may be prepared in advance or developed during the process.  Examples include various types of activities or programmes such as the Respect ProgrammeThe LP ModelThe Learning Environment Project and similar change initiatives.

The destination is the organisation that has decided to implement a change initiative, at both the individual and collective level, for example a school or kindergarten. It is the employees who will receive, introduce or translate the content/core components of the change.

In order to be able to transfer or translate the change in question to the destination, it is essential to establish an active communication channel. The main elements of the communication channel are training, guidance and administrative support (the 'how'), that serve as implementation drivers. Training involves how the various core components are learned and translated into practice. Guidance may involve input and corrections during the training activities. Administrative support may, for example, involve supervision by management, assignment of resources and motivation. Good management is a key factor that will play an essential role during the implementation process. It will also be difficult to obtain any effect of the work if the core components are not known and the implementation drivers are not used during the process.

Loyalty is a key factor in the process. It is important for the employees to be loyal to the change work in order to achieve any effect of the change work.

The implementation drivers are essential

The implementation drivers are comprised of various processes that are necessary in order to implement changes in an organisation. They are essential for both achieving the change and ensuring that any changes have an effect, including over time.

The implementation drivers may be divided into three groups:

  1. competence
  2. management
  3. organisation

Competence drivers are comprised of how personnel are selected for the work, and how training, guidance and evaluations are executed. Competence drivers help develop, improve and maintain the ability and confidence in the implementation of interventions with loyalty, to ensure the effect will be positive.

Management drivers are comprised of management strategies that provide a basis for making good decisions and executing adaptations to the organisation.

Organisational drivers are comprised of good structures established to create a basis for change across the entire organisation. This also entails monitoring the organisation's attainment of objectives.

Good implementation quality

Good implementation quality is a prerequisite for achieving a good effect of the change work. Two elements are essential to ensure a good implementation quality:

  1. the intervention
  2. a support system

The support system is comprised of planning, quality of materials, technical support and clarity. Without a good support system, it will be difficult to ensure quality implementation work. Weaknesses or deficiencies in the support system will often constitute a process barrier.

The implementation quality is considered good when what actually has been implemented does not deviate significantly from the planned intervention and support system. In the event of considerable deviation between what was planned and what was actually implemented, the implementation quality will be low.

Various context factors may also have an impact on the quality of the implementation. These are factors such as class, school, municipality and local community.

Want to learn more about implementation?

More information on implementation is available in the book Implementering. Å omsette teorier, aktiviteter og strukturer i praksis (Implementation. Translating theories, activities and structures into practice) by Pål Roland and Elsa Westergård (Ed.). This text is based on the chapter Hva er implementering? (What is implementation?) in the book. 

The book is also part of the theoretical basis for CIESL, a research project supported by the Norwegian Research Council. This project takes a closer look at how teachers translate theory on classroom management into classroom practices.

Text: Marit O. Øvregård