When programs, states, or countries (i.e., entities) are seeking to improve early intervention/early childhood special education services, the Siskin Center for Child and Family Research can help them with implementation planning. We have now helped six entities develop implementation plans. From implementation science, we know entities move through four stages: exploration, installation, initial implementation, and full implementation. By the time an entity has contacted us, they are usually well into exploration. In the jargon of implementation science—and there’s a lot of it, we are a purveyor—the developer of the model they are implementing or considering implementing.
Some entities have worked with us for a while, and we have agreed to formalize the implementation plan. What’s so important about an implementation plan?
1. It forces stakeholders to think about what a true commitment to implementation really consists of, particularly how long it takes.
2. It helps entities put its efforts into priority order—of importance but also of feasibility and timeliness.
3. It announces to the entity, administrators, and policy makers what the plan is. Therefore it sends a message.
4. It acknowledges that not everything can be done at once, that entities have to spread out expenditures over time.
The implementation-planning meeting has some distinct stages:
· Explaining the model under consideration—in our case, the Routines-Based Model;
· Listing components of the model that might be good to adopt;
· Brainstorming areas of needed improvement, whether related to the model or not;
· Matching improvement needs to components of the model;
· Finalizing the list of components to adopt (i.e., implement);
· Deciding on timelines for preparation, implementation (i.e., intensive training), and maintenance of each component;
· Deciding on the definition of “full implementation” for each component chosen;
· Planning who will write which action steps (one set of action steps per component) by when.
The final implementation plan, therefore, shows the timelines and what needs to be done, for each component, (a) to prepare for implementation, (b) to train people, and (c) how fidelity to the model will be maintained. Preparation for implementation can mean gathering materials, reviewing policies that might enhance or interfere with implementation, and finding or developing instruments for measuring implementation fidelity (e.g., checklists).
Stakeholders provide input. It is actually usually administrators who make the final decisions, because they have the funds and responsibility. One of the decisions that needs to be made is what “full implementation” means. Literally, it would be that all children and families are receiving a given practice or that all providers are using the practice. But if decision-makers decide they won’t or can’t make everyone do it, the goal for implementation might be that a given number or percentage of children and families or professionals are receiving or delivering, respectively, the practice. This option is especially popular in entities with much local control. For example, a state’s preschool special education program might want to implement components of the Engagement Classroom Model (part of the Routines-Based Model) in 20 local education agencies by the target date. They would not be targeting implementation in all LEAs, which might be considered unfeasible in their situation.
Some people might consider it inadvisable to have the purveyor also do the implementation planning, but we have found it to work well. You want a facilitator who knows early childhood, and it’s a good idea to have someone from outside the system doing the implementation to facilitate. In our case, we have enough experience with facilitating these meetings that we know how to do so without pushing ideas the group doesn’t want.
As Thomas Alva Edison said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” Therefore, entities should plan for implementation and should not be surprised at how long it takes.