Frequently Asked Questions
What is Implementation Science?
Implementation Science (IS) or the science of implementation is an emerging field with the goal of generating new knowledge and ensuring the efficient and effective uptake and application of existing knowledge and experience in real-world settings. While the term ‘implementation science’ has been widely adopted, its precise definition differs across different organizations and agencies. At SISN, we have adopted a broad definition of IS as ““an interdisciplinary body of theory, knowledge, frameworks, tools and approaches whose purpose is to strengthen implementation quality and impact.”
Are Implementation Science and Implementation Research the same thing?
No, please see figure here.
Implementation Research (IR) is the component of Implementation Science (IS) that generates new knowledge through empirical investigations.
What are the key components of Implementation Research?
SISN defines Implementation Research (IR) as “a variety of methods of assessment, inquiry and formal research whose purpose is to systematically assess, build on strengths and address potential weaknesses within and between the many factors that affect implementation or the phases of implementation”.
Based on this comprehensive definition, diverse study designs can be applied in IR depending on the nature of the challenge or research questions. These include quantitative, qualitative and mixed-method approaches. While IR can sometimes employ experimental trial designs to address certain questions, it can use a wide range of other methods depending on the questions or challenges at-hand. These include but are not limited to stakeholder analysis, opinion leader research, formative research, rapid assessments, operations research, special studies, process evaluation, costing studies, Delphi studies and various forms of quality improvement or quality assurance.
Illustrative examples of IR can be found here.
My work involves implementing nutrition programs. Am I doing implementation research?
Maybe. It depends on whether and how you are using systematic methods to identify and address implementation bottlenecks and improve program performance. This might take the form of process evaluation, operations research, rapid assessments, quality improvement systems and more. Note that these activities qualify as IR even if they are not intended to be published in scientific journals. The key criteria are that they are systematic, empirical and designed to improve some aspect of program performance.
I sometimes hear it said that Implementation Research is not sufficiently rigorous, but there often is not enough time, skill or resources to meet high standards of rigor expected in conventional research. What should be done in such situations?
The overarching objective of Implementation Research (IR) is to generate knowledge that is useful for improving the design or implementation of policies, programs, interventions or practices and/or the enabling environment for these. To be useful, it must be relevant (to a real implementation need or question), timely and generate trustworthy information. It also must be shared with decision makers in ways they can understand and act upon. In real-world situations these criteria require research strategies that are pragmatic, flexible and mindful of the trade-offs. Given the diversity in forms and purposes of IR, and in country/program contexts, it is not possible to prescribe research methods or standards that would be appropriate in all situations. As the practice of IR continues to develop and mature it will be possible to develop norms and guidance for reconciling these trade-offs based on the accumulating experience.
I am interested in Implementation Research but I find all the information confusing and overwhelming. How can I get started?
Implementation Research (IR) can at first feel confusing and overwhelming in part because it can take so many forms. SISN’s Integrated Framework for Implementation Science (IS) and Classification Scheme for IR are intuitive, comprehensive and practical tools developed to enhance and guide our understanding of this field and are relevant to a wide range of applications and settings. Reviewing these tools are a great place to start if you are new to IS/IR or even if you are a seasoned researcher!
Is Implementation Science the same as process evaluation?
No, Implementation Science is much broader. Process evaluation helps to document if a program is delivered as designed and reached the intended audience. Process evaluation is one tool, among many tools (e.g., formative evaluation, operations research, opinion leader research, effectiveness trials and many other forms of empirical methods) in the tool box for conducting valuable implementation research around interventions.
You can learn more about the distinctions between IS and process evaluation here.
What is SISN?
The Society for Implementation Science in Nutrition (SISN) is a U.S. registered non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation.
SISN was founded in 2016, inspired by the vision of “a world where actions to improve nutrition are designed and implemented with the best available scientific knowledge and practical experience”.
In the short time since our inception, our Board and wider support team have been working hard to deliver on our Strategic Plan and have made considerable advances towards our goals. We encourage you to view these webpages to find out more about who we are and what we are trying to achieve:
How can I use the SISN Framework to guide and improve implementation efforts?
The Implementation Science System (ISS) Operational Model has been developed to assist implementers and decision-makers in low- and middle-income settings to apply the SISN Framework and build the capacity needed for these endeavors.
Learn more about this approach in this short video:
SISN’s Integrative Framework for Implementation Science refers to “emerging and existing knowledge about implementation”. What does this mean?
For SISN, ‘knowledge’ includes three broad and complementary categories:
- Contextual Knowledge and Experience (CKE) – The (often tacit) knowledge and experience of actors in a given country used in everyday decision-making when planning and implementing programs
- Contextual Implementation Research (CIR) – Practical inquiries embedded in and connected to implementation in a given country or context
- Global Knowledge and Experience (GKE) – Published or unpublished findings, frameworks, tools and guidelines from more formal and rigorous trials and evaluation studies conducted in other countries.
SISN seeks to avoid privileging formal trials over other empirical methods, and recognized that in addition to undertaking new investigations, there is a need to improve the utilization and uptake of current implementation knowledge, including the application of existing frameworks, guidelines and tools. Therefore, all three of these knowledge types contribute to the ever-growing body of knowledge on implementation, referred to as IS.
My organization wants to improve the implementation of our nutrition programs. Can SISN help us?
SISN offers a number of services, resources and learning opportunities to support organizations and their staff to build capacity related to implementation science and research. We are eager to learn how SISN can be of greater value to advance some of the critical implementation challenges you face in your work. Please contact us to discuss how we might help.
How can I get involved and support SISN to advance the nutrition Implementation Science (IS) agenda?
You can get involved by:
- Signing up for our mailing list
- Participating in our interactive webinars and other live events
- Submitting an article on your work for consideration for our blog
- Highlighting resources to add to our Knowledge Hub
- Volunteering for one of our working groups when opportunities arise
- Forwarding our newsletter and event invitations to other interested parties
- Following us on LinkedIn and Twitter and commenting on and sharing our posts.
I have a comment. How can I connect with SISN?
We welcome your input! Please feel free to email us.
Where can I learn more about Implementation Science?
We recommend these key resources.
Powerpoint Slides of the SISN Framework and Classification Scheme
These slides may be copied in any form and used for non-commercial purposes provided that the content of any copy is not altered and, it is clearly indicated that SISN is the originator of this material.
- Tumilowicz A, Ruel MT, Pelto G, Pelletier D, Monterrosa EC, Lapping K et al Implementation Science in Nutrition: Concepts and Frameworks for an Emerging Field of Science and Practice (2019) Current Developments in Nutrition 3 (3) nzy080
- Michaud-Létourneau I, Gayard M, Njoroge B, Agabiirwe CN, Luwangula AK, McGough L et al. Operationalizing Implementation Science in Nutrition: The Implementation Science Initiative in Kenya and Uganda, Current Developments in Nutrition (2022) 6(1) nzab146
- Damschroder, L.J., Aron, D.C., Keith, R.E., Kirsh, S.R., Alexander, J.A. et Lowery, J.C. (2009). Fostering implementation of health services research findings into practice: a consolidated framework for advancing implementation science. Implementation Science, 4: 50. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-4-50.
- Theobald S, Brandes N, Gyapong M, El-Saharty S, Proctor E, Diaz T et al Implementation Research: New Imperatives and Opportunities in Global Health(2018) The Lancet 393 (10160) 2214-2228
- Peters DH, Tran NT, Adam T Implementation Research in Health: A Practical GuideAlliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, World Health Organization, 2013.
- Warren AM, Frongillo EA, Rawat R. Building Implementation Science in Nutrition, (2020) Advances in Nutrition, nmaa066.