Eight characteristics of rigorous multilevel implementation research: a step-by-step guide

Oct 23, 2023 | Lengnick-Hall

BACKGROUND: Although healthcare is delivered in inherently multilevel contexts, implementation science has no widely endorsed methodological standards defining the characteristics of rigorous, multilevel implementation research. We identify and describe eight characteristics of high-quality, multilevel implementation research to encourage discussion, spur debate, and guide decision-making around study design and methodological issues. RECOMMENDATIONS: Implementation researchers who conduct rigorous multilevel implementation research demonstrate the following eight characteristics. First, they map and operationalize the specific multilevel context for defined populations and settings. Second, they define and state the level of each construct under study. Third, they describe how constructs relate to each other within and across levels. Fourth, they specify the temporal scope of each phenomenon at each relevant level. Fifth, they align measurement choices and construction of analytic variables with the levels of theories selected (and hypotheses generated, if applicable). Sixth, they use a sampling strategy consistent with the selected theories or research objectives and sufficiently large and variable to examine relationships at requisite levels. Seventh, they align analytic approaches with the chosen theories (and hypotheses, if applicable), ensuring that they account for measurement dependencies and nested data structures. Eighth, they ensure inferences are made at the appropriate level. To guide implementation researchers and encourage debate, we present the rationale for each characteristic, actionable recommendations for operationalizing the characteristics in implementation research, a range of examples, and references to make the characteristics more usable. Our recommendations apply to all types of multilevel implementation study designs and approaches, including randomized trials, quantitative and qualitative observational studies, and mixed methods. CONCLUSION: These eight characteristics provide benchmarks for evaluating the quality and replicability of multilevel implementation research and promote a common language and reference points. This, in turn, facilitates knowledge generation across diverse multilevel settings and ensures that implementation research is consistent with (and appropriately leverages) what has already been learned in allied multilevel sciences. When a shared and integrated description of what constitutes rigor is defined and broadly communicated, implementation science is better positioned to innovate both methodologically and theoretically.

PubMed Abstract

Lengnick-Hall, R., Williams, N. J., Ehrhart, M. G., Willging, C. E., Bunger, A. C., Beidas, R. S., & Aarons, G. A. (2023). Eight characteristics of rigorous multilevel implementation research: a step-by-step guide. Implement Sci, 18(1), 52. doi:10.1186/s13012-023-01302-2