Implementation Research Incubator


Researchers and funders often want to know not just whether a social program works, but how and why — the terrain of implementation research. Here, Rekha Balu and Carolyn Hill present posts from contributors inside and outside MDRC, offering lessons from past program evaluations and insights from ongoing studies that can improve research approaches.  

Rekha is a Senior Research Associate and leads projects for MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science. Carolyn is a Senior Fellow at MDRC and coauthor of Public Management: Thinking and Acting in Three Dimensions. 

Rekha BeluCarolyn HIll

Pairing Predictive Analytics with Implementation Research

09/2017 |  Rekha Balu and Kristin Porter

A growing number of public, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations, in an effort to target resources effectively and efficiently, are turning to predictive analytics. The idea of predicting levels of risk to help organizations identify which staff members or clients need support appeals to program managers and evaluators alike. MDRC has been working with organizations to develop, apply, and learn from predictive analytic tools. A key insight from our application of predictive analytics is its power to jump-start conversations about program implementation and practice, suggesting that it will become increasingly important for implementation researchers to understand. 

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Understanding Program Culture
Insights from Qualitative and Quantitative Analyses of the PACE Center for Girls

07/2017 | Louisa Treskon

The culture of a program, also known as the program environment, is often of great interest in social services. Many researchers and practitioners view program culture or environment as a key aspect of service delivery and as a potential influence on participant outcomes. Staff members sometimes refer to their program environment as the “secret sauce” that no one knows exactly how to replicate. How, then, can researchers measure program environment and understand how it develops?

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Eliciting Program Staff and Participant Perspectives
Interviews or Focus Groups?

06/2017 | Helen Lee and Leigh Parise

As implementation researchers, we often want to hear directly from program staff members and program participants in order to understand their perspectives and experiences. Gathering these perspectives can involve one-on-one interviews or focus groups — but which approach is more appropriate? We summarize a few key considerations for conducting interviews or focus groups for implementation research.  

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Anticipating Variation in Implementation
The Multistate Evaluation of Response to Intervention Practices

05/2017 | Rekha Balu

When schools or programs face challenges in delivering services — such as limited time — and researchers are not on-site to monitor their implementation, how can the researchers know what is happening and how it varies across sites? MDRC’s evaluation of the Response to Intervention reading framework highlights ways to document how schools use their time and which students receive services.  

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Understanding the Use of Evidence-Based Practices in Multiservice Organizations 

04/2017 | Michelle S. Manno and Louisa Treskon

How are evidence-based practices — approaches to organizing and delivering services that have been rigorously evaluated — implemented within organizations that deliver many services, some of which are not evidence-based? As part of our implementation study of the Children’s Institute, Inc., a multiservice organization in Los Angeles working with low-income children and families, we studied how the staff integrated evidence-based practices into its services, and the challenges that arose along the way. 

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Incorporating Program Model Adaptation into Implementation Research 

03/2017 | Rekha Balu

Researchers studying education, youth development, or family support interventions sometimes encounter situations where the program staff is adjusting and adapting program components. Sometimes this is done to fit the needs of clients or budgets. Adaptations also may be made during multiyear programs and studies, for reasons such as staff turnover and budget changes. Such adaptations are likely to occur whether or not sites in a randomized controlled trial are receiving specific implementation guidance.

Instead of viewing adaptation only as an impediment to treatment fidelity, a nuisance that must be managed, we’ve been thinking about how we can anticipate these adaptations in our implementation research. 

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Announcing the Launch of MDRC’s Implementation Research Incubator

02/2017 | Rekha BaluCarolyn Hill

Welcome to MDRC’s Implementation Research Incubator!  We’re glad you’re here. Our monthly posts aim to inform implementation research in social policy evaluations, through

  • sharing ideas about implementation research data, methods, analysis, and findings
  • fostering development of ideas and insights about implementation research
  • integrating understanding across policy domains and academic disciplines
  • advancing transparent, rigorous implementation research
  • informing implementation practice and scale-up of evidence-based programs

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