Implementation Science

Findings from implementation science research can facilitate quicker and more widespread distribution of innovative design products to patients in need. Here, a side-car bassinet adjoins a hospital bed, making it easier for mothers to access newborns and get skin-to-skin contact that is important in the period following the newborn's delivery. The side-car is the design product of Gillings research associate Kristin Tully.


What is Implementation Science?
Implementation science is the study of methods to promote the adoption and integration of evidence-based practices, interventions and policies into routine health care and public health settings.   Implementation research involves looking at barriers and constraints, identifying potential solutions to those barriers, testing the solutions and integrating those solutions. IR addresses scale, feasibility, cost-effectiveness, sustainability, health maintenance, acceptability, equity, coverage, access, and compliance of programs and interventions. 

Far too often, there is a gap between public health discoveries and delivery into practice. This has been referred to as the gap between knowing and doing. Even when something works to prevent or treat disease, usually, it’s not adopted quickly. In fact, research shows that it takes 17 years or more for a proven practice, program or policy to get into wide practice. Innovations that are easy to adopt tend to get used faster, but even that is no guarantee. We’re impatient for change that improves public health which is why more than 100 people across Gillings conduct research on implementation.

Getting proven solutions for some of the world’s greatest public health threats into practice can save lives. Getting these solutions to the people who need them most, faster and more efficiently, saves even more lives. We’re committed to doing that! Read More

At Gillings, first, we discover solutions—in our laboratories, communities, health care systems, countries and the world. Discoveries can be new methods, such as a better laboratory test or a vaccine that prevents cancer (like the HPV vaccine), programs – think, proven way to lose weight and keep it off – policy, which might be a soda tax to decrease how many sugary drinks people consume, and practices and processes, such as how people do public health work in particular settings.

Discovering isn’t enough; we must test our discoveries to confirm that they are effective and do not cause harm. When evidence is solid that something works, we want to get it out to all the people who could benefit most. We call this implementation. New mobile tools, such as phone apps and other aspects of mHealth, can speed implementation and reduce barriers to delivery. Some implementation methods are more effective than others. That’s why we study the science of implementation.

We study the process and science of implementation so that we continue to get faster and better. Lives depend on it. Many of our faculty and students study how to scale-up and accelerate adoption of evidence-based processes, practices, programs and policies. These approaches have prevented mother and baby deaths during and after pregnancy, detected cancers earlier, reduced teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes, improved sanitation in hospitals around the world, helped avert heart attacks and strokes before they happen, decreased substance abuse, improved health food service and activity in preschool centers and increased the pace of clinical trials. 

Current Research

Implementation science is one of the most important areas of growth in public health and we have outstanding expertise across the Gillings School of Global Public Health. It has become increasingly clear that evidence-based interventions are rarely adopted on their own merits.  Researchers may discover how to address a specific problem, but many implementation bottlenecks (social, behavioral, economic, and management) stand in the way of quickly and efficiently integrating the research findings into clinical practice and public health programs. At the Gillings School, we are putting science into service to get our research findings and effective interventions to the people who need them. Over 100 Gillings School faculty members are engaged in implementation science research and many of our students participate in the Implementation Science Student Group (ISSG), a graduate student organization that seeks to increase exposure to high quality implementation science research, training, and resources and organizes the Implementation Science Seminar Series.

MEASURE Evaluation, a large practical research program, is led by a team of Gillings School faculty members and funded by USAID to strengthen capacity in developing countries to gather, interpret, and use data to improve health. It’s one of the largest implementation science programs anywhere.

Additional Research in the Field of Implementation Science

Tracking implementation strategies: a description of a practical approach and early findings

Finding what works: identification of implementation strategies for the integration of methadone maintenance therapy and HIV services in Vietnam

Can Learning Collaboratives Support Implementation by Rewiring Professional Networks?

Gillings WHO Collaborating Center awarded multimillion-dollar DHHS grant for implementation science

Fixsen and Peterson elected to board of Global Implementation Initiative

Barriers to effective implementation of programs for the prevention of workplace violence in hospitals

Implementation Science Courses

The following list highlights implementation science courses that are offered at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Additional courses in implementation science are offered through the School of Nursing, Kenan-Flagler Business School, School of Media and Journalism, School of Education, and School of Social Work. A comprehensive list of those courses can be found here.

HBHE 730 Theoretical Foundations of Social and Behavioral Science
HBHE 772 Planning Public Health Interventions
HPM 320 Introduction to Strategic Planning and Marketing
HPM 620 Implementing Health Informatics Initiatives
HPM 767 Disseminating Evidence and Innovation in Cancer Care

HPM 955 Strategic Thinking and Implementation
ENVR 683 Water-Health Research I
PUBH 767 Team Leadership in Research Navigation
PUBH 717 Gillings Global Implementation Lab
PUBH 716 Implementing Global Health Interventions
PUBH 730 Quality Improvement and Leadership
MHCH 890 Implementation Science for Global Maternal & Child Health


Highlighted Leaders in the Field

Dean Fixsen

Dean Fixsen

Department of Maternal and Child Health

Herbert Pearson

Herbert Peterson

Department of Maternal and Child Health

Sarah Birken

Sarah Birken

Department of Health Policy and Management

Rohit Ramaswamy

Rohit Ramaswamy

Public Health Leadership Program, Department of Maternal and Child Health

Dr. Alice Ammerman

Alice Ammerman

Department of Nutrition

Prof. Susan Ennett.

Susan Ennett

Department of Health Behavior

Professor Jamie Bartram.

Jamie Bartram

Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering

Byron Powell

Byron Powell

Department of Health Policy and Management

Cleo Samuel

Cleo Samuel

Department of Health Policy and Management

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