Trend Lines Q&A with Tamara Halle, Ph.D., Child Trends’ Co-director of Early Childhood Research, about the new book she co-edited along with Allison Metz and Ivelisse Martinez-Beck, Applying Implementation Science in Early Childhood Programs and Systems.
Q. Who would benefit from reading this book?
A. The book is intended for researchers interested in implementation science frameworks, program developers who design and implement programs and systems, and policymakers who want to make sure the early childhood programs and systems they fund are effectively implemented.
Q. How do you describe implementation science?
A. Implementation science is the scientific study of the process of making evidence-based practices work in real world settings. Implementation science is important because when you scale up a program to reach more children and families, you want to make sure you achieve the desired outcomes.
Q. Within the early care and education field, what is the state of deployment of implementation science?
A. Historically, the application of implementation science in early care and education has lagged behind its application in other disciplines such as child welfare and health. In recent years, the number of federally-funded early childhood initiatives such as home visitation that include an explicit focus on implementation has been growing. The topic of implementation is also increasingly being featured at research conferences in the early childhood field, so it’s an exciting time of expansion now.
Q. How do you get the professionals working in early care and education, many of whom have been in positions for many years, to make changes in how they work?
A. It’s hard to get people to change, but effective implementation of a new practice requires it. This is why we included a chapter called Readiness to Change in the book. You have to assess where people are in their readiness to change at each stage of implementation. As you understand people’s willingness to embrace change you can adapt the appropriate approaches to engage them and to be successful in implementing new practices.
Q. In the book, you talk about how it can often take 20 years in lag time from research to practice. How do you shorten this gap?
A. The book talks about the importance of data and feedback loops to inform decisions about program and practice during all stages of implementation – from exploration to full implementation. This means we shorten the time frames from collecting data and sharing it with the stakeholders who need to know the results of the data to make program improvements and modifications. We need to move to a model where data are continuously collected, analyzed and shared in a feedback loop for continuous quality improvement.
Q. Should universities that are preparing the future workforce for the early childhood field spend more time teaching implementation science?
A. Yes. There does need to be more attention to educating early childhood practitioners and researchers in implementation science frameworks and techniques, and more salience of implementation science in peer review journals. We have to prepare, train and retrain our early care and education workforce – as well as the researchers and funders, who will be assessing the effectiveness of early childhood practices, programs, and systems – so that we can ensure that evidence-based practices are delivered in a way that the majority of young children and their families can benefit from them.
Note: Interview conducted by Frank Walter, Vice President of Strategic Communications, Child Trends