• April 2019
  • Vol. 20, No. 3

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Implementation Planning: Myth vs. Reality

Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States

When an agency is ready to implement a new program or set of practices (i.e., an intervention), crafting an implementation plan with clear steps for preparing the agency, building capacity, and rolling out the intervention lays the groundwork for success. However, many agencies are unclear about what a comprehensive implementation plan contains and how it can help them achieve their goals.

This article debunks common misconceptions about implementation planning and shares tips based on research and practice experience. (A Center brief Change and Implementation in Practice: Implementation Planning and Capacity Building contains more information and strategies that can help agencies develop a comprehensive implementation plan as part of their change and implementation processes.)

Myth #1: An implementation plan is just another name for a work plan or schedule for implementing the selected intervention.

Reality: While an implementation plan includes a work plan, it goes beyond a schedule of activities to "tell the story" of how implementation is expected to play out. An implementation plan reflects critical thinking about how the intervention is expected to lead to desired outcomes, what types of support and capacity building (e.g., training, system partnerships) are needed to strengthen implementation, and how testing and piloting can inform improvements before the full rollout. Suggested plan elements include the following:

  • Background and contextual information (problem statement, theory of change, and description of the target population)
  • Intervention overview (description of the intervention, its purpose, underlying principles, core components, and evidence base)
  • Implementation team (team members, their roles, and the teaming structure)
  • Readiness assessment (key findings from a prior assessment of organizational readiness for the intervention, including strengths and needs)
  • Work plan (document that outlines activities for before and during implementation), which includes activities for the following:
    • Completing the adaptation or design of the intervention
    • Building capacity for implementation and strengthening motivation and buy-in
    • Usability testing and piloting the intervention
    • Staging and scaling up the intervention
  • Data collection, evaluation, and continuous quality improvement plans (preliminary information on how implementation will be monitored and how data will be used to adjust implementation and make improvements)
  • Engagement and communication strategies (explanation of how the team will keep leadership and stakeholders at all levels informed and engaged)
  • Anticipated challenges and approaches to address them (proactive identification of how to overcome potential barriers)

Myth #2: A team can write an implementation plan before figuring out what the intervention will look like and what needs to be tested.

Reality: Although not all the elements (listed above) must be finalized before an implementation plan can be created, teams should have done some critical thinking about selecting a well-defined intervention, its purpose and core components, and its initial testing. Beginning work on an implementation plan even if some preparatory work isn't complete can help the agency identify gaps and begin to understand where additional work needs to be done. For example, if the agency doesn't yet have an evaluation plan or communication strategies, the implementation plan can spell out the steps needed to create them.

Myth #3: Once an agency has created an implementation plan, it is reckless to deviate from what has already been thoughtfully planned out.

Reality: We simply don't know everything that should inform the implementation plan up front. Implementation plans are dynamic and evolving documents. Teams may develop their plans incrementally, adding sections as additional information becomes available (e.g., evaluation plan details, communication strategies). Teams also may need to modify plans over time to respond to new developments.

Taking the time to mindfully craft an implementation plan and adjusting it in response to new information can save time in the long run and avert wasted resources. With a thoughtful and nimble implementation plan in place, agencies can pave the way to a successful implementation process.

For more information on implementation planning as part of a change and implementation process, visit the Change and Implementation in Practice webpage on the Center for States website.

 

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