Implementation research: new imperatives and opportunities in global health
Implementation research is important in global health because it addresses the challenges of the know-do gap in real-world settings and the practicalities of achieving national and global health goals. Implementation research is an integrated concept that links research and practice to accelerate the development and delivery of public health approaches. Implementation research involves the creation and application of knowledge to improve the implementation of health policies, programmes, and practices. This type of research uses multiple disciplines and methods and emphasises partnerships between community members, implementers, researchers, and policy makers. Implementation research focuses on practical approaches to improve implementation and to enhance equity, efficiency, scale-up, and sustainability, and ultimately to improve people’s health. There is growing interest in the principles of implementation research and a range of perspectives on its purposes and appropriate methods. However, limited efforts have been made to systematically document and review learning from the practice of implementation research across different countries and technical areas. Drawing on an expert review process, this Health Policy paper presents purposively selected case studies to illustrate the essential characteristics of implementation research and its application in low-income and middle-income countries. The case studies are organised into four categories related to the purposes of using implementation research, including improving people’s health, informing policy design and implementation, strengthening health service delivery, and empowering communities and beneficiaries. Each of the case studies addresses implementation problems, involves partnerships to co-create solutions, uses tacit knowledge and research, and is based on a shared commitment towards improving health outcomes. The case studies reveal the complex adaptive nature of health systems, emphasise the importance of understanding context, and highlight the role of multidisciplinary, rigorous, and adaptive processes that allow for course correction to ensure interventions have an impact. This Health Policy paper is part of a call to action to increase the use of implementation research in global health, build the field of implementation research inclusive of research utilisation efforts, and accelerate efforts to bridge the gap between research, policy, and practice to improve health outcomes.
Theobald, S., Brandes, N., Gyapong, M., El-Saharty, S., Proctor, E., Diaz, T., . . . Peters, D. H. (2018). Implementation research: new imperatives and opportunities in global health. Lancet. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(18)32205-0