March 23, 2021

“An innovation champion is an individual who works within an organization and dedicates themself to promoting a change, such as implementing a new intervention or quality improvement effort. Health organizations commonly rely on innovation champions, and existing literature suggests they are important for successful organizational change. However, many questions remain about what effective champions do and what types of support they need to perform their role well.”

Dr. Christopher M. Shea

Dr. Christopher M. Shea

This statement is part of a new conceptual paper by Christopher M. Shea, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Published online March 23 by the journal Implementation Research and Practice, the article presents a model of champion impact and provides a guide for future research on champions, with the ultimate goal of disseminating evidence-based tools for health system leaders to support champions within their organizations.

“Champions are individuals who have operational roles, like a physician or nurse, but who also take on the responsibility of promoting the implementation of a change, such as a new program, practice or information system,” Shea says. “Organizations commonly utilize champions — but performing the role of champion isn’t easy, and many champions don’t have training on how to lead change efforts.”

Prior studies and literature reviews have provided some useful information about champions, but commonly have faced challenges in terms of operationalizing and reporting on champion characteristics, activities and impacts. Shea’s model addresses this challenge by further delineating these concepts, allowing for new hypothesized relationships between them.

His proposed model suggests that the combination of (1) champion commitment plus (2) champion experience and self-efficacy influences (3) champion performance, which then influences (4) peer engagement with the champion, which ultimately influences (5) the champion’s impact. The model also suggests that champion beliefs about the innovation and organizational support for the champion are drivers of champion commitment and, therefore, have an indirect effect on the champion’s impact.

“The current literature on champions, which is several decades old, is generally descriptive. It doesn’t provide clear guidance on how to select and support champions or explain which activities effective champions perform,” says Shea. “My hope is that the proposed model will inform future collaborative research on these issues. The model then can be modified, as needed, based on findings from new studies. Ultimately, I hope the model will prove useful for supporting both individuals performing champion roles and organizations that intentionally employ champions as part of implementation efforts.”

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