Using a Research-Based Framework to Improve Implementation

By Chris Times 

July 17, 2017

infographic outlining key implementation stages and drivers Check out our infographic outlining key implementation stages and drivers.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions! States are grappling with numerous decisions that may have wide-ranging impacts on educators, students, community members, and other stakeholders. One of the most critical decisions is selecting initiatives to improve instruction and learning.

Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC) is helping its states avoid potential guesswork around selecting and implementing initiatives, with the use of a research-based framework. MWCC is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) on the implementation of standards and early childhood initiatives, using implementation science as its framework to ensure a thoughtful and coordinated approach.

According to the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), “Implementation Science is the study of factors that influence the full and effective use of innovations in practice. The goal is not to answer factual questions about what is, but rather to determine what is required.”1 NIRN defines the four stages of implementation as Exploration, Installation, Initial Implementation, and Full Implementation (see infographic for details). The NIRN website contains thorough descriptions of each stage and provides free online modules, lessons, resources, and tools on implementation.

Standards implementation work at IDE began with establishing a team and conducting training. MWCC staff are working closely with staff in IDE’s Standards and Curriculum (SC) Bureau. As a testament to IDE’s commitment to this project, SC Bureau Chief Erika Cook is serving on the team. Over the past 2 years, MWCC has guided IDE staff through a process to identify current standards work in the SC Bureau and to determine the stages of this work. MWCC also has shared other states’ standards review processes. IDE staff have built draft review processes for each stage of the implementation framework with plans to share the draft and obtain feedback from their colleagues. In addition, they have identified one or two concrete next steps to begin to move their individual standards work into the next stage of implementation.

According to MWCC’s Beth Ratway, senior technical assistance consultant, “MWCC has provided professional development for 35 staff in the Standards and Curriculum Bureau on the use of implementation science. This includes various content areas—English language arts, science, arts, and mathematics. Staff are at different stages in the process and are working on standards implementation maps.”

MWCC will continue working with IDE to use each stage of implementation science to develop, roll out, and evaluate the effectiveness of selected practices and programs. “MWCC’s role is to provide professional development in implementation science, conduct periodic check-ins with projects that are using implementation science, and to serve as a thought partner,” says Ratway. “The bureaus that are using implementation science are learning from each other and sharing strategies for how to provide support in the field. IDE is making a multiyear plan, and staff are more thoughtful about implementation stages, evidence, and outcomes. Staff also are identifying check-in points to determine the progress of implementation. For example, in the ELA group, the staff developed a survey to determine how implementation of current standards is going and is trying to make adjustments for improvement,” she explains.

In addition to the standards implementation work, MWCC is helping the Iowa Department of Education to use implementation science to support other initiatives across bureaus. “In summer 2017, MWCC will train approximately 20 staff in IDE’s Educator Quality Bureau on the implementation science framework to support implementation of their initiatives,” says AIR’s Ratway.

MWCC is using research to help states develop and implement effective solutions to improve practice. Recommendations to state clients are based on expertise, understanding of context, and firsthand experience with approaches, strategies, and frameworks. “Implementation science is the basis of all MWCC work,” says Ratway. “Staff are grounding all work in implementation science, and they continue to use it to guide work at the comprehensive center and at IDE. It is neat to see other bureaus at IDE asking for professional development in implementation science.”

1Implementation Science Defined. (n.d.). [Website]. National Implementation Research Network. Retrieved from