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Implement Sci. 2019 Sep 18;14(1):91. doi: 10.1186/s13012-019-0938-7.

Capturing implementation knowledge: applying focused ethnography to study how implementers generate and manage knowledge in the scale-up of obesity prevention programs.

Author information

1
The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Ultimo, NSW, 2007, Australia. kathleen.conte@sydney.edu.au.
2
Menzies Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, and University Centre for Rural Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia. kathleen.conte@sydney.edu.au.
3
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
4
The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, based at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
5
New South Wales Office of Preventive Health, New South Wales Ministry of Health, Sydney, Australia.
6
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, New South Wales Ministry of Health, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
7
Health Promotion Service, South Western Sydney Local Health District, Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia.
8
Centre for Population Health, New South Wales Ministry of Health, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Bespoke electronic information management systems are being used for large-scale implementation delivery of population health programs. They record sites reached, coordinate activity, and track target achievement. However, many systems have been abandoned or failed to integrate into practice. We investigated the unusual endurance of an electronic information management system that has supported the successful statewide implementation of two evidence-based childhood obesity prevention programs for over 5 years. Upwards of 80% of implementation targets are being achieved.

METHODS:

We undertook co-designed partnership research with policymakers, practitioners, and IT designers. Our working hypothesis was that the science of getting evidence-based programs into practice rests on an in-depth understanding of the role programs play in the ongoing system of local relationships and multiple accountabilities. We conducted a 12-month multisite ethnography of 14 implementation teams, including their use of an electronic information management system, the Population Health Information Management System (PHIMS).

RESULTS:

All teams used PHIMS, but also drew on additional informal tools and technologies to manage, curate, and store critical information for implementation. We identified six functions these tools performed: (1) relationship management, (2) monitoring progress towards target achievement, (3) guiding and troubleshooting PHIMS use, (4) supporting teamwork, (5) evaluation, and (6) recording extra work at sites not related to program implementation. Informal tools enabled practitioners to create locally derived implementation knowledge and provided a conduit between knowledge generation and entry into PHIMS.

CONCLUSIONS:

Implementation involves knowing and formalizing what to do, as well as how to do it. Our ethnography revealed the importance of hitherto uncharted knowledge about how practitioners develop implementation knowledge about how to do implementation locally, within the context of scaling up. Harnessing this knowledge for local use required adaptive and flexible systems which were enabled by informal tools and technologies. The use of informal tools also complemented and supported PHIMS use suggesting that both informal and standardized systems are required to support coordinated, large-scale implementation. While the content of the supplementary knowledge required to deliver the program was specific to context, functions like managing relationships with sites and helping others in the team may be applicable elsewhere.

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