Implementation science: If it's not knowledge translation, and not change management, what is it? Breakfast Presentation

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About the Implementation Science Breakfast Presentation

3 September 2019
Edmonton, Alberta

Implementation Science is a new and exciting discipline that looks for answers to some of the most difficult problems that we face: how to get new and improved evidence-based ways of delivering and organising healthcare into practice, and how to keep them there. At the same time, implementation scientists have worked to develop frameworks that will help us understand, organise and evaluate the processes of implementing innovations and evidence. Drs. Carl May and Tracy Finch have been part of this international effort. They have led an international collaborative group that has conceived and developed Normalization Process Theory (NPT).


Recent years have seen an enormous growth in interest in implementation science as a field. Implementation scientists, masters and doctoral programs in implementation science, and implementation research centres have proliferated. The rapidity of this change has been startling and it has accelerated in the past five years. The important claim of implementation science is that the combination of relevant theory and rigorous research methods will lead to improvements in our capacity to engineer two kinds of improvement in health, healthcare practice, and healthcare systems.

  1. The effective translation of high qualitive evidence into practice through the application of behaviour change techniques that are focused on individuals and populations.
  2. The effective transformation of healthcare practices and systems through the application of practice implementation models that are focused on collectives and systems.

These involve very different ways of seeing the world. The first draws on something that Canada has always been very famous for—research on knowledge translation and mobilisation—but is anchored in psychological theories of individual behaviour. The second draws on a wider range of theories and investigative techniques that are concerned with change, but are anchored in a long history of research on the dynamics of collective action, the diffusion of innovations, and the behaviour of complex social networks and groups.

In this talk, Dr. Carl May did four things. First, Dr. May explored the implications of these two approaches for implementation practice in the real world. Second, he considered the implications of these two approaches for understanding the complicated and difficult tasks involved in engineering the successful implementation of innovations in the delivery and organization of health care. Third, he reflected on experiences of implementation processes in Australia, the UK, and the US as examples of the interaction between “science” and “real-world” practices. Finally, he offered a brief introduction to a simple model of implementation processes that incorporates both individual behaviours and collective action.

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