Implementation support practitioners – a proposal for consolidating a diverse evidence base

Albers, B., Metz, A. & Burke, K. (2020). Implementation support practitioners – a proposal for consolidating a diverse evidence base. BMC Health Serv Res 20,(368). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-020-05145-1

Workforce development for implementation practice has been identified as a grand challenge in health services. This is due to the embryonic nature of the existing research in this area, few available training programs and a general shortage of frontline service staff trained and prepared for practicing implementation in the field. The interest in the role of “implementation support” as a way to effectively build the implementation capacities of the human service sector has therefore increased. However, while frequently used, little is known about the skills and competencies required to effectively provide such support.

To progress the debate and the research agenda on implementation support competencies, we propose the role of the “implementation support practitioner” as a concept unifying the multiple streams of research focused on e.g. consultation, facilitation, or knowledge brokering.

Implementation support practitioners are professionals supporting others in implementing evidence-informed practices, policies and programs, and in sustaining and scaling evidence for population impact. They are not involved in direct service delivery or management and work closely with the leadership and staff needed to effectively deliver direct clinical, therapeutic or educational services to individuals, families and communities. They may be specialists or generalists and be located within and/or outside the delivery system they serve. To effectively support the implementation practice of others, implementation support practitioners require an ability to activate implementation-relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes, and to operationalize and apply these in the context of their support activities. In doing so, they aim to trigger both relational and behavioral outcomes. This thinking is reflected in an overarching logic outlined in this article.

The development of implementation support practitioners as a profession necessitates improved conceptual thinking about their role and work and how they enable the uptake and integration of evidence in real world settings. This article introduces a preliminary logic conceptualizing the role of implementation support practitioners informing research in progress aimed at increasing our knowledge about implementation support and the competencies needed to provide this support.

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