Building Staff Capacity to Use Implementation Science

By Marguerite Huber

January 9, 2019

Two educators smile.

One way to increase the success of a new program is by integrating research and evidence into policy and practice using implementation science. The Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC) has been assisting the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) with their implementation science goal to improve policy implementation across numerous teams of the Division of Learning and Results for several years. MWCC’s past efforts have included working with IDE’s Bureau of Standards and Curriculum on early childhood standards implementation, the Early Childhood Leadership Team on early statewide childhood initiatives, and with the Bureau of Standards and Curriculum on implementing the Iowa Core.

In September 2017, IDE’s Division of Learning and Results requested assistance with incorporating implementation science to improve staff capacity and knowledge, inform the division’s work, and implement the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan.

MWCC provided implementation science training and development to division staff and provided individualized sessions for the division’s four bureaus. The trainings involved quarterly full-day meetings with the goal of developing a common language, sharing effective practices, and creating an understanding of implementation science across the Division of Learning and Results. Between the quarterly meetings, MWCC provided individual, scaffolded support to each bureau team within the division. These smaller meetings discussed the teams’ understanding and use of the implementation process and how implementation science is useful for them.

Brad Niebling, Bureau Chief, Bureau of Learner Strategies and Support, from IDE noted how their collaboration with MWCC has been helpful for IDE: MWCC “brought in some resources and thinking that have concretely changed some of the things that we’ve developed. We’ve been working on using implementation science for a long time, but we were able to make more concrete connections that we hadn’t done previously.”

During one of the quarterly meetings, IDE staff had the opportunity to observe what implementation science looked like from their own colleagues across the division. Nine projects presented what they have been working on and how implementation science had been integrated. Project topics ranged from instructional rubrics and school climate to early childhood positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). Staff asked questions and participated in a discussion about each project. Afterward, staff participated in small groups, where they discussed themes and commonalities between the projects. The peer learning and resource sharing helped create an improved sense of implementation science within IDE work among division staff. The presentations also helped IDE staff to observe how implementation science can be embedded in practice.

MWCC project lead Marie Husby-Slater, who led the trainings, was pleased by the presentations and staff engagement. “Nearly every staff member who gave a presentation used language, materials, or resources that the Midwest Comprehensive Center provided during the quarterly trainings. Whether it was slide materials or an organizing structure from an article we discussed, each staff member brought something different. From a technical assistance perspective, that was really cool to see,” Husby-Slater reflected.

Now in the second year of the work, MWCC will provide targeted support for two projects specifically focused on integrating implementation science: the Family and Educator Partnership and the School Climate Transformation Grant. The goal is to incorporate what is learned and created from the selected projects as shared knowledge for the benefit of all projects within the division. MWCC will help accomplish that goal by supporting division coordination that allows projects to share resources and learning related to implementation science.

Reflecting on the work ahead, Husby-Slater commented, “What we’re doing now focuses on meeting two projects where they are. These projects are interested in using implementation science to get the most out of their work, and the project staff see the potential benefit of leveraging what they learn for others across the division. Our aim is to champion implementation science through practice to create the opportunity for the division to share resources and knowledge that is gained from engaging in the work.”

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