Implementation Research: A Synthesis of the Literature

This synthesis of the literature on the topic of implementating evidence-based practices and programs confirms that systematic implementation practices are essential. 

Dean L. Fixsen
Sandra F. Naoom
Karen A. Blase
Robert M. Friedman
Frances Wallace
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Heath Institute, University of South Florida
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

Over the past decade, the science related to developing and identifying "evidence-based practices and programs" has improved; however, the science related to implementing these programs with fidelity and good outcomes for consumers lag far behind. To this end, the synthesis describes the current state of the science of implementation, and identifies what it will take to transmit innovative programs and practices to mental health, social services, juvenile justice, education, early childhood education, employment services, and substance abuse prevention and treatment. This monograph summarizes findings from the review of the research literature on implementation and proposes frameworks for understanding effective implementation processes. The results of this literature review and synthesis confirm that systematic implementation practices are essential to any national attempt to use the products of science - such as evidence-based programs - to improve the lives of its citizens.

In addition to the report, several recent tools have been developed by this team of authors and others at the National Implementation Research Network at the FPG Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina. These tools are available for review and download here: Some tools that may be of particular interest include the Hexagon Tool, which can help states, districts, and schools appropriately select evidence-based practices by reviewing six broad factors; the stages of implementation analysis planning tool, which provides implementation teams with the opportunity to assess, plan, and track stage-based activities; as well as several tools on implementation drivers. 

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What the experts say

The resource is not based on a particular field but rather, seeks to glean information across domains that can inform evidence-based practices -particularly implementation practices globally. While the synthesis of the related literature is outside of the field of adult education, the framework provided is applicable to any organizational setting, including adult education. The resource is based on the review of hundreds of experimental and quasi-experimental research papers conducted across at least a dozen domains (see Section 1, Number 1). The intent is to identify, across multiple domains, commonalities and definitions of the science behind successfully implementing effective (evidence-based) practices in human services, and to provide a foundation for starting a national effort on the science of intervention.

The comprehensive synthesis of the studies, literature and experiments resulted in an applied framework for implementation of evidence-based programs applicable to most fields and professions to include adult education. The monograph is most useful and applicable to federal and state policy makers, administrators and program managers, professional development organizations, researchers and purveyors. It addresses the long-standing issue of implementing successful practice in adult education, and seeks to provide a framework of common themes and definitions. The extensive review of the research literature indicates that the findings are indeed relevant across domains and could be used on a broad scale. This is very good news for adult education as it does not need to replicate such an undertaking, but can benefit from the findings of this review by applying the principles to plans for program improvement.

The resource includes examples and data from a wide range of fields. Because of this, the reader could find the text difficult and somewhat taxing. However, the information and conclusions drawn from the literature synthesis are well worth the effort of culling through the many examples, unfamiliar as they may be. Ultimately, the specifics serve only to support the broader conclusions of the authors: that the principles presented are relevant to us in adult education.

Chapters 3 and 4 are very useful in that they provide the tools for direct application of the research to practice to include essential components for effective implementation found on pages 29-30. Page 49 also includes a tool to assess staff fidelity and readiness for implementing and sustaining change. The framework lays the groundwork and provides the essential tools for implementation and program change sustainability.


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